Parent Knowledge

Parent KnowledgePARENT KNOWLEDGE CAN HELP CHANGE THE COURSE OF AUTISM

It is known through medical guides that the diagnosis of autism can be early as 2 years old, but that’s not the real case scenario for children with the disorder. What’s really happening is that only half of children with autism are diagnosed at that early stage of childhood, and the other half are only known to be autistic when they are at least aged 6 years or older. There are many factors that could lead to late diagnosis, such as cultural set up where girls are expected to be shy and socially withdrawn thus covering the presence of autism symptoms,  and lack of resources such as time and finances to actually entertain the idea of consulting an expert for a professional diagnosis.

There is also a clear lack of immediate and routine-based screening for autism in many nations and this inadequacy of government initiative also contributes to the unequal access to early diagnostic services for many populace. Although there are also families who are able to have their child tested for autism quite early and promptly, the fault may rest on the medical practitioner such as the paediatrician, who through too much objectivity, relied heavily on clinical standards and failed to check other areas that can indicate autism. These possible factors can also deprive the child of the much-needed early intervention services and treatment that could have been life-changing for such an early developmental stage where the body is most responsive. Because of these possible scenarios that are detrimental to the early diagnosis of autism in children, there is a pressing need for parents to be trained and educated about early detection of autism in children and coached about the ways to provide their toddlers with their own mechanisms to advance the progress of therapies and special programs.

The idea of equipping parents with the knowledge and practical skills in detecting and improving the condition of their autistic children is not something that is new to medical discussions. As a matter of fact, lawmakers and government agencies are cooperating with medical experts to narrow down the interval between diagnosis and access to early intervention services, while more effective methods of early detection are continuously explored. The fundamental rule is to somewhat depart from the traditional ‘diagnosis and treatment’ concept and welcome a more active ‘predict and pre-empt’ approach. Such context has already been applied in other neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Through this approach, parents are taught how to detect the very first manifestation of symptoms when the course of brain development is still easy to correct.

Efforts Leading to Early Autism Detections

Scientists and medical researchers are looking for potential ways to detect autism in the earliest stages of a child’s development, which includes distinctive changes in speech, movement, and attention. Technologies such as Electroencephalography (EEG), Brain Imaging, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), have made these complex studies in the nervous system practicable. Others are also focusing on blood samples and any other sources of genetic material to analyse significant differences in gene signatures. Many of these studies are conducted in younger siblings who have autistic older brother or sister because younger siblings’ risk of getting diagnosed with autism is higher compared to firstborns, specifically one out in every five.

While there are efforts made to detect autism at the earliest possible stage, other groups are also looking for the best applicable techniques in treating autistic infants. In this manner, several studies are conducted for the purpose of determining the methods that can be implemented in infants aged one month to two years and findings suggest the great role of parents in boosting the positive effects of treatment, to the point where autism-related symptoms can be masked, leading to a relatively normal and unimpaired development of the child.

Parent Coaching Approach

Sally Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of California, together with her team, provided coaching services to parents of infants who are already showing symptoms indicative of autism. The seven babies are aged between 7-15 months and manifest many warning signs such as repetitive behaviours, narrowed interests or fixations, limited babbling and lack of social response. The parents were taught of specific strategies that will stimulate their child’s social response, such as reacting to the infant’s attempt at communicating which include gestures and movements. The results of the interactive nurturing coaching sessions were then measured when the infants reached the age range of 18-36 months. The infants that have coached parents showed fewer autism-related symptoms compared to their counterparts whose parents were not included in the sessions.  Similarly, those whose parents are trained, have developed better communication skills while those whose parents didn’t have delayed speech development.

There’s another study conducted by Jonathan Green and his team in 2015 that somehow showed related results. Green is a child/adolescent psychiatry professor from the University of Manchester who initiated a controlled trial of some 54 random babies who had autistic older siblings. A designated therapist visited the homes of the babies who are then aged 9-14 months in six different instances and recorded the interaction they had with their parents. The general result showed a lower average of autism-related symptoms in the 54 infants, especially on their responsiveness to certain stimuli. They also exhibited relatively normal behaviours that can be seen in their neurotypical counterparts which are a good sign of an improved social behaviour.

Face Memory Study

The findings of another study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Washington also solidified the same assumption. Entitled ‘Promoting First Relationships’, the research involved some 33 random infants whose parents were either monitored throughout the duration of the test or guided by parent coaches in 10 weekly home visits. The visits lasted from 60 to 80 minutes, where the trained coaches recorded the infant-parent interaction and then provided the parents with meaningful input as to what they can do to stimulate social responses. The aim of the study was to determine if infants showing autistic behaviours can improve their skills in remembering faces, which provided positive results. The treated babies have shown even faster face memory than their 150 selected neurotypical counterparts.