Autism Treatment Program May Help Toddler Subset

Toddlers' interest in toys prior to program may predict effectiveness of treatment

THURSDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- An autism treatment approach, Hanen's "More Than Words" (HMTW), appears to improve communication skills in a subset of children younger than 2 years showing early signs of an autism spectrum disorder, according to a study published online March 22 in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Alice S. Carter, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts in Boston, and colleagues randomized 62 children, including 51 boys and 11 girls, younger than 2 years of age who met the criteria for autism spectrum disorders to the HMTW intervention or a treatment-as-usual control group along with their parents. In a pretest, the researchers measured the toddlers' baseline social and communication skills while parents and children played with toys and read books. The parents in the treatment group learned methods to help their children communicate, such as practicing taking turns, encouraging eye contact, and modeling simple sentences from the child's perspective.

The investigators found no effects of the HMTW program on parental responsivity or toddlers' communication as compared to the treatment-as-usual group. However, the investigators did find that toddlers who played with fewer toys during the pretest showed more improvement if they were in the HMTW group than if they received treatment-as-usual. In addition, these toddlers who received the HMTW intervention experienced more instances of making eye contact, pointing to or reaching for objects of interest, and showing or giving the researcher a toy, with the effect lasting at least four months after the program was completed.

"Parents of children who evidence higher object interest may require greater support to implement the HMTW strategies, or may require different strategies than those provided by the HMTW curriculum," the authors write.

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