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Parent-led early intervention in autism can reduce symptom severity

An early intervention in autism aimed at helping parents communicate with their child can reduce the severity of symptoms, with the reduction continuing for six years, a follow-up study by UK researchers has shown 
autism

In the original Preschool Autism Communication Trial (PACT), published in 2010, 152 children aged 2-4 with autism were randomised to receive usual treatment or a 12-month early intervention.

In the intervention group, parents took part in 12 therapy sessions over six months, followed by monthly support sessions for the next six months. Parents also agreed to 20-30 minutes per day of planned communication and play activities with their child.

About six years later the researchers followed up with 121 children from the original study. Of that number, 59 had received the PACT intervention and 62 had received treatment as usual.

Long-term effect a first

In the first study to identify a long-term effect of an early intervention for autism, the researchers

...

In the original Preschool Autism Communication Trial (PACT), published in 2010, 152 children aged 2-4 with autism were randomised to receive usual treatment or a 12-month early intervention. 


Researchers found children who received intervention aged 2-4 had less severe overall
symptoms when they reached ages 7-11.    Picture: iStock

In the intervention group, parents took part in 12 therapy sessions over six months, followed by monthly support sessions for the next six months. Parents also agreed to 20-30 minutes per day of planned communication and play activities with their child. 

About six years later the researchers followed up with 121 children from the original study. Of that number, 59 had received the PACT intervention and 62 had received treatment as usual. 

Long-term effect a first

In the first study to identify a long-term effect of an early intervention for autism, the researchers found children who received intervention aged 2-4 had less severe overall symptoms when they reached the 7-11 age group, with improved social communication and reduced repetitive behaviours. 

‘Our findings suggest that sustained changes in autism symptoms are possible after early intervention, something that has previously been regarded as difficult to achieve,’ the study authors said. 

‘However, we found no evidence of any effect on child mental health, such as anxiety or challenging behaviours, suggesting that additional interventions may be needed to address these difficulties at later ages.’ 


Pickles A et al (2016) Parent-mediated social communication therapy for young children with autism (PACT): long-term follow-up of a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/ S0140-6736(16)31229-6

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