Babies with signs of autism are two-thirds less likely to be diagnosed with disorder if their parents take part in video-based therapy, ‘landmark’ study finds

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  • Video therapy for children with autism lowers their chances of early diagnosis
  • It improved their social development, so they fell below the diagnostic threshold
  • By age three, infants were two-thirds less likely to have autism

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Children are less likely to develop autism if their parents participate in video-based therapy, a major study has found.

Experts applauded the ‘historic’ finding, which suggests that interventions when the brain is still resilient can improve social development.

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The therapy, called IBASIS-VIPP, involves filming the child with early signs of having a spectrum disorder and interacting with their parents. Parents then watch the clip with a practitioner to discuss the best ways to help them develop.

British and Australian academics found that infants using this approach were two-thirds less likely to develop autism by age three.

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It improved youth’s social development and their autistic behaviors, such as being sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds, and repeating themselves.

But it did not reverse the developmental difficulties of children who showed signs of having autism as a toddler. However, the researchers said that recognizing the signs earlier could help them develop.

Researchers in the UK and Australia used a treatment that filmed babies aged nine to 14 months who showed early signs of autism, and to determine how they interacted with their parents, to determine how to best help their development

The study by researchers from the University of Manchester and the University of Western Australia was published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Children are usually not diagnosed with autism until they are three years old.

Nearly one in 50 youth falls on the spectrum.

They may find it difficult to make eye contact, understand how others feel, or have a keen interest in certain subjects. Autistic youth may take longer to acquire information or to repeat things.

Doctors diagnose the disorder by assessing their development, such as when they started talking, watching how they interact with others and reading reports sent to them by their nursery or school.

Over the course of four years, medics examined 103 children aged nine to 14 months in Australia who showed early signs of autism.

In babies, this may include not smiling, making eye contact, or responding to their name.

The 50 children received 10 video therapy sessions along with usual care – depending on their doctor’s recommendation. Others were given nothing but standard treatment.

What is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are often grouped into two main categories.

First, problems with social interaction and communication.

This includes difficulty understanding and being aware of other people’s feelings and emotions and/or problems participating in or initiating conversations.

Thought patterns are another important area, namely restricted and repetitive patterns of thought or physical movement, such as tapping or twisting with the hand, and become disturbed if these set routines are disrupted.

It is estimated that around 1 in every 100 people in the UK have ASD. More boys are diagnosed than girls.

There is no cure for ASD, but a range of educational and behavioral support programs can help people with the condition.

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In the IBASIS-VIPP sessions, experts helped parents understand their child’s potential to help them understand how to help them develop socially.

The experts assessed each child at the beginning and end of the study and when they were two and three years old.

Assessments included a thorough examination of their attention span and whether they responded to their name and various facial expressions.

The results showed that children who were given additional treatment were 68 percent less likely to meet diagnostic criteria for autism by age three.

And their autism symptoms — which can include not being able to focus on an object and being slow to speak — were 28 percent less severe.

Experts said the children participating in the trial still have developmental difficulties, but iBASIS-VIPP can support them in their early years.

The findings supported a small trial of video-based therapy in the UK that saw similar benefits for children. Experts said this gave them more confidence in the ‘reality of the results’.

Previous autism treatments tried to replace the child’s developmental difficulties with more ‘typical’ behaviors. But iBASIS-VIPP allows a child to learn in the best way for them, the researchers said.

Experts said a follow-up study of participants would be ‘critical’ to determine whether there are long-lasting effects from the therapy.

Video therapy is already used in the UK for parents of children under five who are in adoptive care, to help address their emotional and psychological needs.

Professor Jonathan Green, Child Psychiatrist at the University of Manchester, said: ‘iBASIS-VIPP works with each child’s unique difference.

‘And [it] Creates a social environment around the child which helps them to learn in a way that was best for them.

‘This is the first evidence that a pre-emptive intervention can lead to such a significant improvement during infancy.’

Professor Green said: ‘Children who fell below the clinical threshold still had developmental difficulties.

‘But by working with each child’s differences, rather than trying to combat them, therapy has effectively supported their development from early childhood.

‘With this therapy we are providing support before a diagnosis is given – and parents want it immensely.

‘This evidence could have wide-ranging implications for clinical practice and public health – not that many clinical trials have such potential.’

Professor Andrew Whitehouse from the University of Western Australia said the implications of the findings are ‘huge’.

He added: ‘The interventions that started during this …

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