+ Autism Study: Infants Needed in Puget Sound Area

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The University of Washington is pioneering an autism-prevention study, and  Puget Sound infants are  needed for presymptomatic evaluation. 

From an article by Elizabeth Griffin in Journal Newspapers:

Researchers at the University of Washington were recently granted $11.3 million to work on the prevention of autism.

Their work will be the first study done with a pre-symptomatic population who are thought to be at risk for autism because they have an autistic sibling. 

While the latest research shows that autism affects as many as one in every 150 newborns in the United States, about one of every 20 infants who have an older sibling with autism will develop the disorder. 

“This is the first trial attempt to intervene and treat infants who are at risk for autism at the earliest time that symptoms are present,” said Annette Estes, associate director of the UW Autism Center and research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavior science, who will head the clinical assessment component of the new study. 

Researchers hope to work with 200 families in the course of this five-year study. “We are eternally optimistic,” said Sara Webb, research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science, in regard to the amount of subjects needed for the study. “You have to be to undertake something of this scope.” 

Participation in the study benefits families in several ways – they are provided with a thorough assessment of their baby’s development, language and IQ at 6, 12 and 24 months.

“It’s like a well-baby checkup for autism and language difficulties,” said Webb. 

For families who already have one child with autism, a professional evaluation of their second child can be important. Webb has observed that parents with an autistic child are anxious when a second child is born and feel the need to watch them to make sure they are all right. She hopes that through participation in this study, their stress can be reduced. 

All of the infants in the study will be assessed and monitored for development through age 2. Of these, 100 will be chosen to participate in a more intensive program involving “Promoting First Relationships” – a therapy that focuses on the interactions between an infant and his or her primary caregiver.

Primary caregivers will be trained to engage their infants in eye contact and each caregiver and child will be videotaped interacting once a week for nine weeks. 

Through observation of pre-symptomatic infants, the group hopes to identify possible biological factors of autism and provide early intervention for those who have them or who display behavioral indications of the developmental disorder. The gold-star result of the study, according to Webb, would be that with early detection and intervention fewer children would develop autism and those who do would suffer from fewer symptoms of it. 

“Other research has shown that the earlier the intervention the better the outcome in treating children with autism,” said Estes.

“One of our goals is to be able to identify autism as early as possible before obvious symptoms show up so we can intervene while the connections in a child’s brain are still plastic.” 

The group will also try to identify genetic markers for autism through brain imaging. “Right now we can’t reliably identify autism until about 24 months of age. We will be looking at genetics, neurobiology and a number of early behavioral measures to predict which children will develop autism,” Estes said. 

Families that wish to participate in the study must live in the Puget Sound area and be willing to come to the UW Autism Center in Seattle.  

For more information, contact the UW Autism Center at (800) 994-9701 or find information on the Internet at http://depts.washington.edu/uwautism/.   

sole source: Journal Newspapers article by Elizabeth Griffin on 2/5/08   

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