This discovery could change everything about autism

The results from a groundbreaking new study in the US offers hope to parents of babies displaying early characteristics of autism.

Forget drugs or hospital stays, researchers have found that by using early behavioural therapy at home on babies as young as six months of age, children can avoid developmental delays that traditionally result from the onset of autism in the toddler years and beyond.

And, not unlike other treatments, it is the active role of the parents in applying the behavioural therapy every day that is essential to the approach’s success.

The study

The behavioural techniques are based on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), developed by Sally Rogers from UC Davis and Dr Geraldine Dawson from Duke University, who originally developed the model for children already diagnosed with autism, aged three and six years.

The results from this study were encouraging because they showed the behavioural therapy, which encouraged child engagement and interaction, resulted in brain changes to those of non-autistic children.

The researchers then applied the same therapies to babies aged six to 15 months of age; too young to diagnose with autism, but who had shown autistic traits.

To maintain both consistency and intensity of the therapy, researchers encouraged the babies’ parents to regularly administer the therapy at home during their normal routines.

The results were truly remarkable. Of the seven infants who took part in the study, six of them showed absolutely no developmental delays by the age of two or three in their language development, social communication and behaviour.

While the handful of children involved in this limited study have not been observed over a long period yet, the results are still very promising because the findings suggest that early intervention, combined with intensive behavioural therapy, can make a real difference in the development of the disorder.

Putting it into practice

Clinical psychologist and manager of diagnostic assessment services at Autism Spectrum Australia (ASPECT) agrees it’s an exciting development but remains cautious, saying it’s still early days. “There have been one or two others (studies) that seem to provide some evidence that getting in young with children works,” she says.

“But it is very new and this is also a very small study, so it will be good to see some further research come out.”

What makes this particular study unique, Vicki says, is the age of the babies involved. “The researchers are identifying babies who are showing early signs or are at risk, and they’re doing some early work on basic parenting interaction,” she says.

For resources, support and to get access to a whole range of services for families and people with autism, get in touch with Autism New Zealand.

This article was written by Kylie Matthews for and has been adapted for

Last revised: Wednesday, 8 October 2014

This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.