A new research, led by experts from the University of Manchester, King’s College London and New Castle University, shows that parent-led early interventions can help in symptom reduction in autistic children.
The study, named as PACT (Preschool Autism Communication Trial) ran from September 2006 to February 2008, recruited children who were aged between 2 and 4 years and had a diagnosis of core autism. These children received a follow-up, 6 years after the end-point of trial to find the long-term influence of intervention in reducing the severity of symptoms.
This follow-up assessment was carried out from July 2013 to September 2014, and the findings were revealed today in a press release from the University of Manchester, which were also covered by the journal The Lancet.
Lead researcher Prof Jonathan Green, affiliated with the University of Manchester and Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and Manchester Academic Health Sciences Centre, Manchester, signified the study finding, saying, “This type of early intervention is distinctive in being designed to work with parents to help improve parent-child communication at home.”
This investigation primarily looked at the long-term effects of autism symptom reduction in relation with parent and child social interaction.
Funded by the Medical Research Council UK, the study recruited 152 participants, out of which the experiment group was assigned to PACT intervention. The control group participants received regular autism treatment while the trial continued for 12 months.
During the trial, the parents received feedback from the therapist about their awareness and response to the child’s unusual communication pattern. For this purpose and for the self-evaluation of parents, the parent-child interactions were recorded and the videos were later analyzed for improving performance of parents, along the sessions. This practice and regular interactions with the therapist assisted the parents to better understand their child’s needs and communicate with the child in a more effective manner.
This 12-month long session was stretched across two segments of 6 months each. During the first 6 months, the parents took park in 12 therapy sessions and in the next 6 months, these sessions were followed by another 6 months of sessions with additional monthly support sessions. During this time of trial, the parents also had 20-30 minutes of planned communication and play activities with their children, every day.
After the trial, the pre and post scores on the comparative severity score (CSS) were measured with Autism Diagnostics Observation Schedule (ADOC) and Dyadic Communication Assessment Measure (DCMA).
On the completion of follow-ups in both groups, it was found that 46% children in the intervention group were in the severe autism range. In the usual treatment group, the children in the severe autism range accounted for 63%. This supported the intervention group over the usual treatment as a significant improvement of 17% was showed in the intervention group.
On an average, autism spectrum disorder can affect 1 in 100 children, which makes it a common neurodevelopmental disorder of children and young children. The child who suffers from autism shows difficulties in social interaction; he shows challenged communication skills and has a tendency of engaging in repetitive behavior. However, the signs of every individual case vary in the severity and differ across the above mentioned three core areas.
Incurring a life-time cost of about £1.5 million in the UK and about $2.4 million in the US, including the health, social care, education, family expenses and productivity losses, these children remain in a dire need for more effective treatment.
According to the NICE guidelines, to help autistic children, psychosocial interventions should include play-based therapy strategies with parents, teachers and care givers. In addition to this, therapist modeling, video-interaction feedback and other interactive activities reduce symptoms by increasing the child’s joint attention, engagement and reciprocal communication.
For adults, the guidelines suggest group based structured leisure activity programs for improving their social interaction. Those who exhibit anger and aggression management problems are offered coping skills and relaxation training.
This study is in coherence with the standard autism care guidelines and emphasizes even more upon the early interventions and active role of parents in helping their autistic child.
Showing improvement across the domains of social communication and repetitive behavioral symptoms, the implications of these findings are crucial in nature. With increasing and optimizing the naturalistic parent and child interactive bond in home-setting, many parents will have a better awareness about their role in improving the quality of life for their child with some special needs.
Favoring it over the therapist-child interventions, Professor Green added, “The advantage of this approach over a direct therapist-child intervention is that it has the potential to affect the everyday life of the child. Our findings are encouraging as they represent an improvement in the core symptoms of autism, previously thought very resistant to change.”
Despite the fact that this intervention did not help in anxiety management or conduct disorders, the study nevertheless is a success in countering the effects of autism. The opinion was aptly reflected by the researchers, who said that the intervention may not be a cure but it still is very significant in managing autism symptoms.