Doctors and researchers have long insisted that they cannot make a reliable autism diagnosis until a baby reaches age 2. That doesn’t mean pediatricians are not looking beforehand. A baby’s first pediatrician visit involves screening for social symptoms that are on the autism spectrum disorder.

Recent studies are giving new hope to parents with autistic kids. Early treatment can stave off some of the social signs of the disease. Recent studies have pointed to the ability to diagnosis, or lead to a diagnosis in infants as young as two months. The study, published in Nature, found that erratic eye movement could be noticed in babies that young.

Other studies show that further behavioral signs show up in the six to twelve month range. The newest study is out in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. A team at UC Davis’ MIND Institute decided to test whether they could accurately diagnosis the early signs of autism, and if detected, if early intervention helped reduce the signs of autism by age three.

The answer, like all this science, is a partial yes. Researchers aren’t ready to go full-on yes, but they are happy with the results. Babies that underwent coaching showed fewer autistic signs than babies that didn’t go through the coaching. The same infants in the coaching program outscored non-participants who were later diagnosed with autism.

Researchers may be saying it’s a qualified yes, but parents should move towards early intervention. It certainly won’t hurt, and could end up erasing some of the signs later.

That’s not to say the later interventions don’t work. Plus, autism is hard to diagnose so early. What the study does show is that parents of the child can use the time to more fully interact with their child.

Lead study author, Sally Rogers, pushed parents to become more involved in the early learning process. This ranges from their baby not having the normal cues of facial contact and babbling. Also, parents are unlikely to disturb an infant who is quietly playing.

“If that goes on for a long time, children are having fewer and fewer chances to learn and that’s going to have its effect over time,” Rogers said. “And that’s why it’s important that children get into treatment as soon as their symptoms emerge.”

As for later interventions? They show promise too.

“There’s no reason to think that children would do better if they’re getting these interventions earlier. And in fact, most children haven’t shown their symptoms this early.”

What this shows is that more studies are needed. Judging by the results of the UC Davis experiment, if physicians can come up with a way to diagnose as early as possible, then treatments can be set up to attack the social signs of autism.

Read the study here.


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