ASD Program Changes Behavior and Brain

Autism program for toddlers changed brain activity so it looked like kids without ASD

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Early treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can help improve behaviors and social skills. Recent research suggests it may also change the brain.

A recent study looked at the brain activity of kids with ASD after they had been in an intense program for two years while they were toddlers. They found that the kids’ brain activity more closely resembled kids without ASD.

Early interventions may not only help behavior but also affect brain development in positive ways.

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Researchers, led by Geraldine Dawson, PhD, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, enrolled 48 kids with ASD who were between 18- and 30-months-old.

Kids in the study either did the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) or a community program for two years.

ESDM is a program for kids under the age of 2. They spend 20 hours a week with a clinician, and parents are also trained to work with kids at home.

ESDM focuses on play-based skills that can help social skills later on. Studies have shown it to be helpful for some kids with ASD.

Each year, kids in the study had their social skills, language and mental ability tested.

After two years, the researchers looked at the brain activity of kids in the study and compared it to typically developing kids.

They used a technique called electroencephalography (EEG). EEG places tabs on the head that can read the electrical signals in the brain and tell researchers which parts of the brain are active.

The researchers had the kids look at pictures of faces and objects while wearing the EEG.

Typically developing kids have more brain activity when they see a face than when they see an object, like a car.

Past research showed kids with ASD had more activation to objects than to faces.

The researchers found kids who participated in an ESDM program had the same type of brain activity in the EEG as the typically developing kids. They showed the most brain activity when viewing pictures of faces.

However, the kids with ASD in community programs had greater brain activity when they looked at objects.

The kids who did ESDM also had greater improvement in language skills and social behavior after two years than did the kids in community programs.

The authors concluded that early interventions may have the power to affect brain development and change brain function alongside behavioral improvements.

This study was published in the November issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Geraldine Dawson and Sally Rogers, authors on this study, receive royalties from a book they published on the ESDM program.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 1, 2012
Last Updated:
November 5, 2012