A recent study from the Kogel Autism Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara investigated a treatment for infants who exhibit the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Published in the Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions, authors Kogel, et. al. found that an intervention involving how parents interact with their ASD infants could mitigate the effects of autism, such as sensory processing issues, in children aged 12 months and younger.
Kogel’s team conducted a study that involved changing the types of play that parents engage in with their infants. Rather than focus on games that were alarming to the ASD infants (like Peek-a-Boo), parents were encouraged to identify positive interactions they had with their children and focus on those instead.
The method, called Pivotal Response Treatment (PVT) is based on parents providing a positive motivation for their children when they engage in social games. The parents played with their children for short periods of time and then presented the children with a social reward. Social rewards are better than rewards such as food because they capitalize on the personal interaction between parents and children, which is extremely important for young children. Over time, the social reward was paired with the children’s non-preferred activities. The children were conditioned to participate in these activities because they received the prized social reward after.
Kogel explained that, “The idea is to get them more interested in people, to focus on their socialization. If they’re avoiding people and avoiding interacting, that creates a whole host of other issues. They don’t form friendships, and then they don’t get the social feedback that comes with interacting from friends.”
During the one- to three-month intervention period, the researchers coached the parents on how to work with their children. Afterwards, all of the children in the study had normal responses to social stimuli. Furthermore, two of the three children in the study no longer had any disabilities and the third was only manifesting a language delay, which is a relatively manageable issue. The PVT is an effective intervention for children under 12 months.