Babies as young as six month are part of an effort to identify and treat autism by adapting a daily therapy for toddlers to younger children.
According to The New York Times, researchers across the country are taking an approach that’s been shown to help toddlers — it’s called the Early Start Denver Model — and adapting it for babies who at six months don’t make eye contact, smile, babble, and show greater interest in objects, all risk factors for autism.
Researchers are careful to note that this kind of early intervention isn’t a “cure” for autism, but because babies’ brains are still developing, the therapy which redirects babies’ attention to faces, might help change the pathways of brain development. How?
“If a baby starts focusing on objects instead of faces, the theory goes, a “developmental cascade” can begin: brain circuits meant for reading faces are used for something else, like processing light or objects, and babies lose their ability to learn the emotional cues normally taught by watching facial expressions. The longer a baby’s brain runs this developmental course, the harder it becomes to intervene.”
This approach is fascinating in how it uses daily interaction to rewire the brain. Even if it works (and what “works” means in this context is probably debatable), it’s hard to identify risk factors for autism in young babies. Pediatricians and nurse practitioners, too, would have to learn both about the program and how to offer it to parents. So much about how to help young children who need more support in their development depends on how the adults in their lives communicate — what they can say and what they can hear. Would you look into therapy like this for a young baby?