A parent-led therapy for babies displaying early signs of autism has significantly reduced the likelihood of a diagnosis in early childhood, according to research by CliniKids at the Telethon Kids Institute.
An international research team led by Professor Andrew Whitehouse at the University of Western Australia found that a clinician diagnosis of autism at age three is only a third as likely in children who receive iBASIS-VIPP pre-emptive therapy.
The four-year randomised clinical trial enrolled babies aged 9-14 months who showed early signs of autism to investigate the impacts of iBASIS-VIPP video intervention. Over a period of five months, half received this form of therapy, while a control group received other current best practice treatment. A total of 89 children completed an assessment at the start of the study and at the end of the therapy period when they were two and three years of age.
Three times fewer diagnoses of autism
The study claims to be the first evidence that a pre-emptive intervention during infancy could support children’s social development to the extent they fall below the clinical autism diagnosis threshold.
“The use of iBASIS-VIPP resulted in three times fewer diagnoses of autism at age three,” Professor Whitehouse said. “No trial of a pre-emptive infant intervention, applied prior to diagnosis, has to date shown such an effect to impact diagnostic outcomes–until now.”
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What is iBASIS-VIPP therapy?
iBASIS-VIPP is a parent-mediated, video-aided feedback therapy which aims to optimise social and communication development in infants aged 9-14 months by helping parents understand and adapt to their infant’s communication style.
“The therapy uses video-feedback to help parents understand and appreciate the unique abilities of their baby, and to use these strengths as a foundation for future development,” Professor Whitehouse commented.
“By doing so, this therapy was able to support their later social engagement and other autistic-related behaviors such as sensory behaviors and repetitiveness, to the point that they were less likely to meet the ‘deficit-focused’ diagnostic criteria for autism.”
Professor Whitehouse added that many autism therapies try to replace developmental differences with more neurotypical behaviors, whereas iBASIS-VIPP works with each child’s differences and creates a social environment around the child to help them learn in a way that’s best for them.
Increased parental sensitivity
The researchers also found increased parental sensitivity to the babies’ unique communication and an increase in parent-reported language development. Other general aspects of development were not shown to be affected.
“The children falling below the diagnostic threshold still had developmental difficulties, but by working with each child’s unique differences, rather than trying to counter them, the therapy has effectively supported their development through the early childhood years,” Professor Whiehouse added.
Professor Whitehouse admitted that follow-up study of the participants will be required in later childhood to further verify the results, when the behaviors for autism may be more apparent.