Infant Start Can Finish Autism Spectrum Disorder

A new study in California has produced promising results

Jeremy Beren, Sports Editor

Autism research has endured many peaks and valleys, as researchers have relentlessly worked for something close to a cure. Finally, they may have found it.

A new study at the University of California-Davis has suggested that signs of autism spectrum disorder can be erased if treatment begins early enough.

The study, completed at the school’s MIND Institute and titled “Autism treatment in the first year of life: A pilot study of Infant Start, a parent-implemented intervention for symptomatic infants,” provided a directed therapy known as Infant Start to seven babies six-to nine-months old. These babies had been identified as having exhibited signs of the disorder. Said symptoms included fixations and limited to no eye contact.

By the time these youngsters reached their third birthday, five showed no signs of the spectrum disorder. While it doesn’t mean that the children are completely “recovered,” it certainly has promise.

Autism research has come so far in the past 15 years. This latest revelation from UC Davis is music to my ears: if detected early enough, there’s a possibility that ASD can be eliminated. Lead author Sally J. Rogers doesn’t like the word “cure”; indeed, people with ASD can have many strengths. But some spots on the spectrum come with much less functionality than others.

And granted, this study had an extremely small sample size, but it at least provided something tangible. I’ll gladly take that, because when my younger brother was diagnosed in 1999, this was thought to be impossible.

Tyler was two when my parents received the diagnosis. He had exhibited some of the signs the younger children in the study had exhibited: the various fixations, the lack of eye contact, the steadfast resistance to new things. As he grew older, and as my parents and various therapists tried various medications on him, these behaviors sometimes lessened in intensity. Sometimes they got worse.

One medication would make his compulsions, such as opening and closing doors, more frequent. Another would make him aggressive and violent. The inability to find the right balance frustrated everyone in the family.

Finally, a few years ago, we found that magic combination. Tyler’s weight ballooned, but his demeanor calmed considerably. He’s 17 now, so he on occasion will act the part, but the medication has bettered his life, which in turn makes everyone else’s life a little easier. In fact, Tyler improved to such a degree that my mother, in conjunction with Tyler’s latest therapist, has started to wean him off his medication.

No matter how small, this study has provided more than raw figures. It’s provided encouragement, and it’s provided hope for parents and siblings of autistic children younger than Tyler. Those children may have a smoother road than he had.