In an effort to pre-empt the development of autism in children at risk, the MIND Institute at the University of California at Davis is administering intense therapy to children as young as 6 months old who have shown some signs of autistic behaviors during evaluations.
Today there is no concrete diagnosis of autism in children younger than two years old. The problem is that by this age the establishment of the illness is too far along for therapy to make enough of an impact. David Mandell, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains how the early intervention might acutally be able to prevent the eventual development of full-blown autism.
“What you ultimately might be doing is preventing a certain proportion of autism from ever emerging. I’m not saying you’re curing these kids, but you may be changing their developmental trajectory enough by intervening early enough that they never go on to meet criteria for the disorder. And you can’t do that if you keep waiting for the full disorder to emerge.”
The infant therapy which MIND utilizes relies upon games and pretend-play which was developed for toddlers. In order to be of use to such young children, the focus is instead on stimulating the normal behaviors which 6 month-old children engage in, such as babbling, and the routine stimulations which take place at bath-time, feeding time, dressing and diaper-changing. Games like peek-a-boo or tickling are emphasized, in the hope of blocking the debilitating behaviors associated with autism.