Is Autism Preventable?

Amy Kuras

autism ribbonMost parents of children with autism or on the autism spectrum will say they noticed something different about their babies pretty early on: a lack of eye contact or smiling, or unusual speech patterns. A new school of thought among professionals who work with autism suggests that early intervention is key to possibly preventing full-blown autism from ever taking hold.

In other words, very early therapy starting as young as 6 months could mean a child who otherwise would have been autistic will never fully develop it. That's just really, really amazing, to think that some simple play therapy with a baby could prevent so much difficulty. They might not be indistinguishable from neurotypical kids; it's likely they might have some social quirks or learning difficulties. But the pattern of behaviors that define the autism spectrum might be avoided altogether and they could live a normal life.

Doctors typically screen for autism during the 18-month or 2-year well baby visit, if they do at all. That may be too late to really nip full-blown autism in the bud. David Mandell, the associate director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, says in The New York Times.

I’m not saying you’re curing these kids, but you may be changing their developmental trajectory enough by intervening early enough that they never go on to meet criteria for the disorder. And you can’t do that if you keep waiting for the full disorder to emerge.

He's one of the proponents of Early Start therapy, which works with toddlers with some of the markers for autism and helps build their intelligence, language, and emotional skills through pretend play. Now there's an adapted version of that therapy for infants, and researchers are hoping that such early intervention will help even more.

It seems as if the therapy is a more focused version of the play every parent does with their baby. The difficult part with kids who may have autism is that they don't respond like normal kids. That's got to be discouraging for the parents. But there's not a parent on this Earth who would not bend over backwards to spare their children and themselves the difficulties of a life with full-blown autism. If this therapy works, it would be a miracle for those parents and their kids.

Pediatricians and parents need to be more aware of some of the early signs of autism, like not meeting your gaze, lack of joyful expressions, and so on ... First Signs has very comprehensive information on milestones. If getting these kids into therapy early could literally save them, then educating yourself, so you can educate others who deal with your child, is critical.

What do you think? Could autism be preventable?


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