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Autism study finds first signs in babies -

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Autism study finds first signs in babies

Dina Rosendorff reported this story on Monday, September 14, 2009 12:22:00

ELEANOR HALL: It affects as many as one in 160 Australian children. Now Australian research is
offering hope of early intervention for autism. Researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide
say they've been able to detect the signs of autism in babies as young as 10 days old.

They say that early diagnosis and treatment of children with autism could significantly improve
their quality of life.

Dina Rosendorff has our report.

DINA ROSENDORFF: When Daryl Barkhazen's son Vincent was born seven years ago, not much was known
about the early signs of autism.

DARYL BARKHAZEN: This is something I am really having regretted. If we had a paediatrician who was
on the ball at that time and said look, you really need to get your boy in this program straight
away. It didn't really happen for me, you know, or my child.

DINA ROSENDORFF: Vincent was first diagnosed with autism when he was 18 months old since then,
Daryl Barkhazen and his wife have spent considerable time and money on early intervention therapy
for him.

Vincent is now in a mainstream school and Daryl says his son has come a long way.

DARYL BARKHAZEN: He is really good in his education. The teachers are really wrapped with him and
they can see that the amount of therapy that we've done with him. Early intervention is very key
for getting a good outcome.

DINA ROSENDORFF: Now, a new study has found intervention could take place at an even earlier age.

Psychologists from Flinders University have found it is possible to pick up signs of autism in
children in their first few weeks of life. *(See editor's note.)

They followed 25 children genetically "at risk" of developing autism and compared them with a group
of typically developing children.

Associate Professor Robyn Young is one of the psychologists behind the study.

ROBYN YOUNG: In the first few months of life we are noticing that there is often some stereotypical
behaviour like it might be just engaging in their fingers, looking at their fingers over and over.
It might be tensing their body, lack of reciprocity for a smile. Lack of cuddling. Just lack of
general responsiveness.

And certainly these are early indicators of the disorder rather than the indicators that have
previously been documented like lack of language development and lack of interest in peers which of
course are not present until the child is in a two and a half to three years of age.

DINA ROSENDORFF: This is the first study of its kind to examine children from such a young age.

Robyn Young says if autistic children can be exposed to early intervention therapy as soon as
possible, it could greatly improve their behaviour.

ROBYN YOUNG: We certainly know due to the neural plasticity in young children that if we can
commence intervention early, recognise these signs, we can perhaps ameliorate some of these early
core deficit link behaviours that seem to have collateral damage on a child's development further
down the track.

We know that early intervention is critical for these children if we are going to affect the
long-term prognosis of the children.

DINA ROSENDORFF: Dr Sophie Otto, is a former GP whose 20-year-old daughter, Caitlyn, is autistic.
Despite very little knowledge about the early signs of autism and how to treat it Dr Otto used
early intervention therapy to help Caitlyn.

SOPHIE OTTO: Like all parents we felt that we had to do absolutely everything that could be done,
that was available to be done but to this day I don't know whether that altered outcome.

And the reason for that is, of course, that you can draw from anecdote and say well she turned out
better than I expected but you can't be sure that she wouldn't have turned out that way anyway.

DINA ROSENDORFF: No recognised diagnostic tests for autism are available yet and Dr Otto cautions
against rushing into early diagnosis and intervention before more is known.

SOPHIE OTTO: Those sorts of diagnosis have a consequence - an emotional and a financial
consequence. However, despite the fact that I am a doctor first and foremost, I am the parent of a
child with autism even though the intervention, the early intervention came at significant cost to
us, emotional and financial cost to us, I don't regret a moment of it.

DINA ROSENDORFF: The researchers hope their study will now be used to help train parents and those
working in paediatric health care to identify the early signs of autism in infants.

ELEANOR HALL: Dina Rosendorff reporting.

*Editor's note: This transcript was amended on 14.09.2009 to reinstate a line inadvertently removed
in the editing process.