New Tools for Early Autism InterventionLearning by imitation appears to be a successful method to improve social skills in autistic youth.

Michigan State University researchers say the findings come at an important time in autism research as investigators have learned to detect behaviors and symptoms of autism early in the course of care.

In the past several years, researchers have begun to detect behaviors and symptoms of autism that could make earlier diagnosis and even intervention like this possible, said Dr. Brooke Ingersoll, MSU assistant professor of psychology.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Ingersoll. “I think we, as a field, are getting a much better idea of what autism looks like in infants and toddlers than we did even five years ago.”

In the current study, Ingersoll found that toddlers and preschoolers with autism who were taught imitation skills made more attempts to draw the examiner’s attention to an object through gestures and eye contact, a key area of deficit in autism.

Imitation is an important developmental skill that allows infants and young children to interact and learn from others. However, children with autism often show a lack of ability to imitate.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, analyzed children with autism who were 27 months to 47 months old.

While autism is typically diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3, new research is finding symptoms of autism disorders in children as young as 12 months.

“I think there’s a lot of hope that if we can figure out the right behaviors early enough, and intervene early enough, we may be able to prevent the development of autism,” Ingersoll said.

Source: Michigan State University

Boy holding toy photo by shutterstock.