While infant and toddler brains are rapidly developing, a window of opportunity exists to reduce the impact of autism, which now affects one of every 150 children born in the United States, says a statement from Case Western University, Cleveland.

Gerald Mahoney, director of the Center on Interventions for Children and Families at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences of Case Western, has received a 3-year, $780,000 grant from the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development. In a randomized control study, he will evaluate the effectiveness of a new developmental intervention, called Responsive Teaching, for children with autism who are under 3 years of age. Designed to be used by parents and other primary caregivers, Responsive Teaching enhances children’s development and social emotional functioning, says the statement.

Mahoney will be recruiting the parents of children with autism and teaching them how to use the program in their everyday lives.

"This intervention differs from some of the more commonly used interventions for children with autism," Mahoney said in the statement. "This intervention emphasizes increasing children’s involvement in daily routines rather than in direct instruction or rote learning activities."

Previous research has shown that Responsive Teaching has great promise with a wide range of children, including children with autism.

In a 2005 publication, Mahoney and his co-investigator, Frida Perales, a research associate at the social work school, reported that a sample of 20 children with autism who received this intervention for 12 months made impressive improvements in some key skills affected by autism. Among those skills are their ability to communicate, interact with adults and children, and regulate their emotions and behaviors. But, results of that study left unanswered questions.

This new study will use a more rigorous research design to evaluate the effectiveness of Responsive Teaching, says the statement. Sixty children with autism and under 3 years of age will be randomly assigned either to a group that receives individual parent-child Responsive Teaching sessions or a group that receives Responsive Teaching in parent groups.

All participants will receive the same basic information. However, the parent group will have the added advantage of learning and sharing this information with other parents of children with autism; while the individual treatment group will have the advantage of being coached in the use of Responsive Teaching. Participation in this project does not prevent children or their parents from receiving other intervention services.

Mahoney and Perales, the study’s project coordinator, are currently recruiting parents and children who are under 3 years of age who have either been diagnosed or are suspected of having autism or a related disorder. Parents who would like more information can contact the coordinator of this project, Perales, at (216) 368-1824 or via e-mail.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, at (216) 368-1004 or via e-mail.

[Source: Case Western]