According to experts, engaging in activities for early autism intervention in babies can help children with autism exhibit fewer symptoms. Regularly involving them in fun interactions with 9- to 12-month-old infants can make a significant difference.
In addition to the usual general developmental tests that begin about 9 months of age, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises screening all children for autism at ages 18 and 24 months.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately 5 million Americans annually, with less than 2% of those affected being children; therefore, the AAP is collaborating with pediatricians to develop more effective early identification and intervention strategies for children exhibiting ASD symptoms. According to the AAP, early intervention might be crucial for autistic children’s families.
And while science is offering more knowledge about what ASD can look like, even in very young children, the early symptoms can be so subtle that parents may miss them. Parents advisor Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., head of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, states that many parents may overlook indications such as a lack of gesture, mimicking, or eye contact.
This contributes to the four-year average diagnostic age. Consequently, most therapies won’t begin until a child is already experiencing difficulties in areas of development such as speech and social skills.
Why Early Intervention Is Crucial
Long before a diagnosis is feasible, some of the most cutting-edge autism research focuses on interactions with infants aged 9 to 12 months. Damon Korb, M.D., a behavioral and developmental pediatrician and director of the Center for Developing Minds in Los Gatos, California, explains, “A baby’s brain is developing new pathways and will discard the ones it doesn’t require.”
“According to one idea, children with autism have tangled neural connections, making their processing inefficient. However, if these connections are established as early as 9 months, the brain may be better able to decide which ones to maintain and which ones to discard.”
This may appear hard, but it is really a game. Engaging your newborn in specific activities can improve their ability to relate to and interact with others. Although the approaches may appear humorous, their effects can be profound. According to Dr. Landa, some of the unusual behaviors associated with autism may not develop or will be less pervasive. You can support social engagement and linguistic development in your child.
The Strength of Play
In small research conducted by Dr. Landa, infants whose parents attempted at-home therapies prior to their first birthday exhibited considerably fewer autistic signs at age 3. In addition, these types of play are neurologically advantageous for all babies, not just those who will later be diagnosed with autism, as they still serve to develop a baby’s language and social abilities and strengthen your bond.
Autism-affected infants are less likely to begin play. They may be calmer or appear content while alone. Lisa Shulman, M.D., a neurodevelopmental pediatrician and interim director of the Rose F. Kennedy Toddlers’ Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, states, “Most early children are fascinated about other people and attempt to emulate them.” However, children with autism may not be as curious or likely to copy. Therefore, you must take the initiative if you have a passive child.
You can play a crucial role in your baby’s growth by employing a few tactics while having fun with him or her. “We forget how powerful our encounters may be,” Dr. Landa explains. And if you’re concerned that it’s too late for your older child to benefit from this type of play, rest assured that there is still much you can do to help them; your pediatrician and other professionals can work closely with you.
Early Intervention Activities That Can Be Performed at Home
Play is always a potent technique that may be employed at any moment, regardless of the diagnosis. Plus, it’s fun! This tutorial teaches how to incorporate play methods into your daily routine.
If your infant shakes a rattle, you should do the same. If they coo, you should coo back. Dr. Geraldine Dawson, head of the Duke University Center for Autism and Brain Development, explains, “Imitation is one of the primary ways infants learn about the social environment; we work out how to behave by seeing others.”
Our brains have circuitry built for imitation, but this portion of the brain does not normally work in autistic children. When you imitate your child, it helps them connect what they’re doing and what you’re doing, which might stimulate those crucial neural pathways.”
2. Exhibit excitement.
Suppose you are playing with a toy that pops up. Whenever a figure appears, look your child in the eyes and express excitement. According to Dr. Shulman, sharing pleasure helps your youngster comprehend how to make sense of their world. This is also the ideal technique to foster what experts refer to as joint attention abilities — when a youngster directs his attention to a certain location.
While it develops naturally in most infants around 1 year of age, it is not as natural for autistic infants. “If your infant is playing with a block, point to it and express your enthusiasm,” advises Dr. Dawson. This demonstrates that you are aware of what they are playing with and can appreciate things with them.
3. Follow your infant’s cues.
You may have a preconceived picture of what playtime entails (cup stacking! block pounding! ), but observe what makes your baby happy and involve them in that activity. “Allow them to demonstrate their interests,” advises Dr. Dawson.
If they are playing with a drink coaster or a paper towel roll, don’t try to encourage them to read a book; instead, get on the floor with them and admire the coaster. “Enter their environment and make it enjoyable for a baby who may be developing autism,” says Dr. Dawson. “Allowing children to take charge ensures that they enjoy playtime.”
4. Perform a song.
Children later diagnosed with autism may not possess the same linguistic abilities as typical children. Fortunately, you can prevent this simply altering your tone. Dr. Shulman explains, “Songs transform mundane times into opportunities to communicate, and because words are tied to a melody, it’s easier for your infant to interact with them—especially if there are accompanying movements.” Changing a diaper? While singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” touch each body part. Feeding them supper? Sing about veggies.
5. Take turns.
“An early clue that a child has autism is that they do not initiate communication, so you should assist your baby to understand that it is something they can do,” Dr. Shulman explains. Even if you are not having genuine discussions, you may still establish the idea that you do something, then they do something, with the back-and-forth occurring repeatedly.
Numerous classic games require taking turns, such as peek-a-boo and back-and-forth ball rolling. It’s as easy as clapping your hands and urging your child to do the same.
6. Seize the spotlight.
Dr. Korb explains, “A child with autism fails to understand that people are more important than things.” To assist your infant in distinguishing between people and objects, create a spectacle of yourself. Dr. Korb advises, “If you enter a place where people are seated, chat with them and be extremely interesting.” You can perform a humorous dance or talk with conviction.
While feeding them or reading them a book, position yourself front and center to encourage them to look at you. “Position yourself so that your face is squarely in front of your baby’s eyes,” advises Dr. Dawson. You want a kid who is less interested in people to identify enjoyable actions, such as eating, with your face. They will recognize your participation in the encounter.”
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