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Taking Aim at Autism in High-Risk 1-Year-Olds

One in 68 children have autism spectrum disorder. While most children are diagnosed by age four, researchers believe the earlier we intervene, the better off these kids will be. Now a new study shows one-year-olds at risk for ASD can be helped with some simple strategies.

When new mom Kristen Balhoff filled out a mailed research survey about her baby boy's behavior, she had no clue what would happen next.

Balhoff told Ivanhoe, "It was a shocking call to get, because we didn't have any concerns about his development."

Patrick was invited to participate in a study for one-year-olds at risk for autism spectrum disorder.

Grace Baranek, PhD, Lead Investigator at UNC, PEARLS Program in Chapel Hill, North Carolina helped run the study.

"We would ask families about things like how engaged is your child in peek-a-boo games and patty cake games. We also asked families if their child quickly responds to their name when they're called" she said.

Simple interventions through "ART" or adapted responsive teaching could improve their child's social interaction and behavior.

Baranek explained, "If the child was very overly focused on some type of repetitive play they were doing, the interventionist might coach the parent to try to imitate the child."

Some other strategies? Linn Wakeford, Intervention Coordinator at UNC, PEARLS Program in Chapel Hill, North Carolina recommends playing face-to-face games with your kids and engage them by communicating the way they do.

"So if you say, a dadadadada then I'm going to say something back to you that's kind of like that and I might even use a gesture like a dadadadada. It's just amazing how kids start to look at you, like, oh you're speaking my language now" Wakeford explained.

Now five, Patrick was recently diagnosed with mild ASD.

Balhoff told Ivanhoe, "What would be the case if we had not been a part of this program? I don't know. But I'm really glad that we were." Lessons she's using with all of her kids.

Researchers at UNC say while these strategies were used to show parents how to interact with their kids at risk for autism, the strategies could be used to better interact with any young child.