Research — 11 November 2012

Australian researchers have taken a step toward understanding how well individual children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are likely to respond to different kinds of therapy.

The ability to match children with ASD to appropriate programs was currently a gap in clinical management, the researchers said.

In a pilot study of 21 children aged two to five years, a team at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at La Trobe University have elucidated some of the predictors of developmental gain in children being treated with the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM).

The ESDM, a behavioural intervention which combines regular professional therapy sessions with daily home intervention by parents, was endorsed by the federal government for use under the Helping Children with Autism scheme.

“What we’re trying to understand is why some children make more gains than others,” lead researcher Dr Giacomo Vivanti (PhD) said.

The research found that children with more advanced skills in functional use of objects – such as spontaneously picking up a toy hammer to push a peg into a hole rather than playing with it purposelessly – predicted improvement under the ESDM therapy.

Other predictors included the ability to understand goals, measured by tracking a child’s predictive gaze, and the ability to imitate other’s goal-directed actions.

The study found that visual attention to others’ faces was, contrary to expectations, not related to treatment response and nor was chronological or developmental age.

Co-author Dr Cheryl Dissanayake, director of OTARC, said in a statement the next step would be to assess whether the predictors of treatment success apply to other early intervention programs.

“We really want to get to a state where we can say ‘this group of children will do better in program A, whereas these other children will do better in program B’,” she said.

Meanwhile a US study published last week suggested that participating in the ESDM program may ‘normalise’ brain signals in children with ASD, Dr Dissanayake said.

“What this means is that children receiving ESDM showed the same pattern of response to faces and objects as typically developing kids,” she said.

As first seen in Medical Observer. Source: J Autism Dev Disord 2012; online 3 Nov


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