Friday, February 16, 2007

Very Early Autism Diagnosis Subject of '60 Minutes' Story This Sunday

The quest to diagnose children with autism as early as possible -- so that behavioral therapy can begin when a child turns one or 18 months old -- forms a key part of Lesley Stahl's report on "60 Minutes" this Sunday. You can find a preview of the segment on Stahl's "Reporter's Notebook" at CBS News by clicking here.

The report focuses on research at the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California, Davis. Here's a quote from the "60 Minutes" report:

Psychologist Sally Rogers, is a pioneering autism researcher who sees hope in early diagnosis. It's not a cure, but she believes early treatment with younger and younger children — while the brain is still developing — can make a big difference in the life of an autistic child. "[By using early treatment] we are certainly creating new connections in the brain," she tells Stahl. "We don’t know how to touch the biology of autism. But I do think that the behaviors associated with autism can be reduced to the point where they are not obvious anymore."

Stahl says that the children she saw who had this early diagnosis followed by intensive one-on-one services showed marked improvement in their behavior and communication. The problem frustrating researchers, however, is the difficulty in identifying what it is that anticipates the later onset of autistic traits in these babies and toddlers. "They don’t know what causes [autism spectrum disorders] yet, and they are having trouble getting this early diagnosis pinned down," Stahl says.

Stahl notes in a second video snippet that most kids receive an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis by around age 5. (That coincides with the latest 14-state study released by the Centers for Disease Control, based on data reported in 2002. For more background, see here.)

The M.I.N.D. Institute posted a press release on its website (see it here) about the "60 Minutes" story, which gives more background on the research going on there into early diagnosis. It also says that parents are key to delivering services to these very young children in cases where waiting-lists for services are long:

The early intervention study — part of a M.I.N.D. Institute partnership with the University of Washington Autism Center — enrolls very young children who have been diagnosed with autism. There can be a waiting period between a diagnosis and community or school-based treatments. In this treatment program, parents are taught to intervene in the home right away, while they wait for other services to begin. While the study is in its initial phase, Sally Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and principal investigator on the study, is thrilled with the early outcomes.

“Parents are very capable therapists,” she said. “Raising a child with autism takes so many different skills. I try to facilitate the parents' own abilities, showing them how to use specific types of play and interaction techniques to increase their children's enjoyment and engagement with them, their gestural communication and language.”

Over the course of several weeks, parents learn to build their children's repertoire of adaptive play and interaction skills, thereby reducing the use of challenging behaviors — such as tantrums — to attain goals. Rogers added that the family-delivered interventions help bridge gaps in services and increase the number of hours each day the child is engaged in learning opportunities.

“So many families of children with autism do not have access right away to enough intervention — or to intervention at all,” she said. “Teaching parents to use effective techniques throughout their daily lives with their children helps parents begin intervention immediately after diagnosis and allows them to continue to do so even after their child enters other kinds of programs.”

While having parents deliver play- and language-based interventions in the home has a long history, Rogers' study is unique in that it examines the effects of parent intervention very early in the disorder — by or before the second birthday and as soon as autism symptoms are identified. Children at this age may be even more responsive to interventions than older preschoolers, and parent training helps create a home environment that is optimal for fostering the social and communicative development of young children with autism.
After "60 Minutes," check out "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"

Would you believe that after "60 Minutes" airs on CBS, the ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" has picked a family with five -- yes five -- children on the autism spectrum for a home makeover? Here's information posted on the show's website:

Next Episode:
Sunday, February 18, 8/6c

"O'Donnell Family"
The only documented family in the U.S. with five autistic children will receive a much needed home. Country music star Trace Adkins performs at a benefit for the family.


Maddy said...

I think that was one of the most stunning realisations [other than the diagnoses themselves] that the waiting lists for therapists to provide services as 8 months long [at least!] and that was a few years back now.
Perhaps we should have a recruitment drive?
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the man who disagreed that it is an epidemic.
If he had solid evidence he would have presented it.
some people have their own agenda.