A new study released today by researchers at the Mind Institute and published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that early and intensive supportive interaction by parents (not therapists) diminished or took away signs of delay in almost all the children in the study. Even though the sample size was very small, evidence continues to come in confirming the clinical knowledge clinicians using developmental models have witnessed for years. These are exciting times indeed for those of us working with families of infants and toddlers. This is the third study this year announcing similar results with parents as the agents of change; two others are in the publishing cue.
The main message: Parents must take charge. In the words of Sally Rogers, the lead researcher in the study, “parents are the ones who see the earliest signs, and when they are worried about their babies, they need to follow up and not take no for an answer”. Dr. Rogers is studying babies as young as 6 months old, finding that they are able to increase communication and play skills and in this study, by the time the babies were 2-3 years old, six of seven of the children had caught up in their development.
If you are a parent and you have concerns, seek help as early as possible. Work with your pediatrician and if he or she does not agree with a referral for an early intervention evaluation, go elsewhere until you find help.
If you are a professional, it is essential to take parents’ concerns seriously. In the case of early developmental delays, there is a much greater risk to waiting than to evaluate and treat, if necessary, with evidence based, developmental treatments.
*In keeping with the current focus of this site on presuming competency and appreciating neurodiversity, I am including a quote by Dr. Rogers:
“I am not trying to change the strengths that people with ASD bring to this world,” Rogers said when asked whether she is seeking to “cure” autism. “People with ASD contribute greatly to our culture,” she said. “The diversity of human nature is what makes us a powerful and strong species. We are trying to reduce the disability associated with ASD.”
My own opinion is that the word “disability” might more accurately be described as “communication challenges”, to use language that is more inclusive of neurodiversity. This form of early intervention is strength- based and imparts relational benefits to both parent and child as it focuses on increasing back and forth joyful interactions.