Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Early autism intervention improves brain responses to social cues

Date:
October 29, 2012
Source:
University of Washington
Summary:
An autism intervention program that emphasizes social interactions and is designed for children as young as 12 months has been found to improve cognitive skills and brain responses to faces, considered a building block for social skills. The researchers say that the study is the first to demonstrate that an intensive behavioral intervention can change brain function in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders.

A child wearing EEG electrodes looks at a photo of a face, which was used to trigger brain responses to social stimuli.
Credit: UW

An autism intervention program that emphasizes social interactions and is designed for children as young as 12 months has been found to improve cognitive skills and brain responses to faces, considered a building block for social skills. The researchers say that the study, which was completed at the University of Washington, is the first to demonstrate that an intensive behavioral intervention can change brain function in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders.

"So much of a toddler's learning involves social interaction, and early intervention that promotes attention to people and social cues may pay dividends in promoting the normal development of the brain and behavior," said Geraldine Dawson, lead author and chief science officer for the advocacy group Autism Speaks.

"For the first time, parents and practitioners have evidence that early intervention can result in an improved course of both brain and behavioral development in young children," she said.

Dawson began the study while she was the director of the UW Autism Center. The study was published online Oct. 26 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Forty-eight children, aged 18 to 30 months and diagnosed with autism, either participated in routine community-based interventions or the Early Start Denver Model, which emphasizes interpersonal exchanges and shared participation in activities. The model was developed by Dawson and co-author Sally Rogers, a professor at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

Participants received one of the interventions for about 20 hours each week over a period of two years. For the children randomly assigned to the ESDM group, treatment took place two hours, twice a day, five days a week, by trained interventionists who came to the child's home. The children got an extra boost from their parents, who were trained to use ESDM strategies during routine exchanges with their child.

A previous study found that the ESDM intervention improved IQ, language, and adaptive skills and the researchers wanted to know if the approach also led to brain changes.

After two years of treatment, the brain function of the participants -- now about four to five years old -- was measured with electroencephalography while the youngsters viewed social stimuli, such as faces, and nonsocial stimuli, such as toys.

"Humans are experts at processing faces, but the brains of children with autism have delays in the ability respond to faces," said co-author Sara Webb, a UW research associate professor. If the brain can quickly identify a face, she said, then it can build on this to also quickly decide whether the face is of a man or a woman, happy or sad, and familiar or not.

Children in both intervention groups showed similar brain responses to faces as did children in a control group who did not have autism, suggesting that "the high level of intervention in both groups allowed the children with autism to catch up to the children in the control group," Webb said. "That's fantastic news."

Looking at a higher level of brain processing, the researchers studied whether the treatments changed brain measures of attention and cognitive engagement when seeing faces compared with a nonsocial stimulus. Eleven of 15 -- or 73 percent -- of children in the ESDM group showed greater attention to faces than to toys. In contrast, the EEGs of only five of the 14 recipients of the community intervention, or 36 percent, showed similar activation.

"The ESDM intervention resulted in greater attention and cognition brain activity to social stimuli, and these brain function patterns are more similar to the typical developing group of children," Webb said.

She stressed not only the importance of receiving intensive early intervention for autism, but that the intervention should focus on enhancing social attention, reciprocal interactions and engagement with a social partner.

Other study authors at UW are Emily Jones, Kaitlin Venema, Rachel Lowy, Susan Faja, Dana Kamara, Michale Murias, Jessica Greenson, Jamie Winter and Milani Smith, as well as Kristen Merkle of Vanderbilt University.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and an Autism Speaks postdoctoral fellowship awarded to Jones.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Washington. The original article was written by Molly McElroy. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sally J. Rogers, Annette Estes, Catherine Lord, Laurie Vismara, Jamie Winter, Annette Fitzpatrick, Mengye Guo, Geraldine Dawson. Effects of a Brief Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)–Based Parent Intervention on Toddlers at Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012; 51 (10): 1052 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.08.003

Cite This Page:

University of Washington. "Early autism intervention improves brain responses to social cues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121029131823.htm>.
University of Washington. (2012, October 29). Early autism intervention improves brain responses to social cues. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121029131823.htm
University of Washington. "Early autism intervention improves brain responses to social cues." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121029131823.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins