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Working Intensely Early on May Help Autistic Kids
Date:11/30/2009

Language, social skills improve with specially designed program, study finds

MONDAY, Nov. 30 (HealthDay News) -- A special, intensive early intervention program for toddlers with autism succeeded in boosting IQ along with children's language and social skills, a new study shows.

"When done in this fashion, many children are able to learn and make remarkable progress," said Geraldine Dawson, lead author of the study, published online Nov. 30 in Pediatrics, and chief science officer of Autism Speaks. "Some of the kids at the end of the study were going into regular preschool and had developed language and friendships with their peers."

All children in the study were 1½ to 2½ years old, but the intervention -- called the Early Start Denver Model -- was designed for children 1 to 5 years of age, Dawson said.

"This is the first time that there's been a randomized controlled study of an intensive early intervention for toddlers," added Dawson, who was a psychology professor and director of the Autism Center at the University of Washington, Seattle, when the study was conducted. "There have been a few studies of short-term strategies that would improve specific skills such as language and social behavior."

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children be screened as young as 18 months for autism spectrum disorders, a cluster of neurodevelopmental disorders, sometimes called pervasive developmental disorders, involving social and verbal impairments.

However, the age at diagnosis is generally closer to 3 or 4 years, Dawson said, simply because new screening tools are not in widespread use.

"The systems that underlie early social behaviors such as eye contact and babbling come on in the first few months of life so one of the reasons we're trying to move to early diagnosis and early intervention is to be able to intervene at a point when the brain is still
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