Researchers Successfully Treat Autism in Infants: Playing Games that Infants Prefer Can Lessen Severity of Symptoms

Published by ScienceDaily

Most infants respond to a game of peek-a-boo with smiles at the very least, and, for those who find the activity particularly entertaining, gales of laughter. For infants with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), however, the game can be distressing rather than pleasant, and they’ll do their best to tune out all aspects of it — and that includes the people playing with them.

That disengagement is a hallmark of ASD, and one of the characteristics that amplifies the disorder as infants develop into children and then adults.

Baby in yellow shirt playing with blocks looking up surprised

A study conducted by researchers at the Koegel Autism Center at UC Santa Barbara has found that replacing such games in favor of those the infant prefers can actually lessen the severity of the infants’ ASD symptoms, and, perhaps, alleviate the condition altogether. Their work is highlighted the current issue of the  Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions .

Lynn Koegel, clinical director of the center and the study’s lead author, described the game-playing protocol as a modified Pivotal Response Treatment (PVT). Developed at UCSB, PRT is based on principles of positive motivation. The researchers identified the activities that seemed to be more enjoyable to the infants and taught the respective parents to focus on those rather than on the typical games they might otherwise choose. “We had them play with their infants for short periods, and then give them some kind of social reward,” Koegel said. “Over time, we conditioned the infants to enjoy all the activities that were presented by pairing the less desired activities with the highly desired ones.” The social reward is preferable to, say, a toy, Koegel noted, because it maintains the ever-crucial personal interaction.

“The idea is to get them more interested in people,” she continued, “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 from interacting with friends.”

According to Koegel, by the end of the relatively short one- to three-month intervention period, which included teaching the parents how to implement the procedures, all the infants in the study had normal reactions to stimuli. “Two of the three have no disabilities at all, and the third is very social,” she said. “The third does have a language delay, but that’s more manageable than some of the other issues.”

On a large scale, Koegel hopes to establish some benchmark for identifying social deficits in infants so parents and health care providers can intervene sooner rather than later. “We have a grant from the Autism Science Foundation to look at lots of babies and try to really figure out which signs are red flags, and which aren’t,” she said. “A number of the infants who show signs of autism will turn out to be perfectly fine; but we’re saying, let’s not take the risk if we can put an intervention in play that really works. Then we don’t have to worry about whether or not these kids would develop the full-blown symptoms of autism.”

Historically, ASD is diagnosed in children 18 months or older, and treatment generally begins around 4 years. “You can pretty reliably diagnose kids at 18 months, especially the more severe cases,” said Koegel. “The mild cases might be a little harder, especially if the child has some verbal communication. There are a few measures — like the ones we used in our study — that can diagnose kids pre-language, even as young as six months. But ours was the first that worked with children under 12 months and found an effective intervention.”

Given the increasing number of children being diagnosed with ASD, Koegel’s findings could be life altering — literally. “When you consider that the recommended intervention for preschoolers with autism is 30 to 40 hours per week of one-on-one therapy, this is a fairly easy fix,” she said. “We did a single one-hour session per week for four to 12 weeks until the symptoms improved, and some of these infants were only a few months old. We saw a lot of positive change.”

At The Behavior Exchange of Dallas, our highly trained and caring staff are dedicated to the belief that what could be, can be. Our intensive work involves the family, schools, and other professionals, and our mission requires patience, focus, and expertise. To learn more about our use of  applied behavior analysis  to bring out your child’s full potential, call (972)312-8733 today. 

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As Director of Finance, Robert manages and oversees financial planning and accounting, revenue cycle management, budget operations, and strategic initiatives for The Behavior Exchange. He brings more than 15 years of experience to his role and is accomplished at developing financial strategies that enhance organizational growth and maximize sustainability. Robert’s expertise includes the design of short- and long-term financial plans, investment management, De Novo strategy, operational optimization, financial problem solving, compliance, and much more. But he’s not all “Show me the honey!” Robert is as comfortable handling transaction and valuation service engagements of more than $100 million as he is driving a classic dune buggy to work.

Ashvina attended University of Bombay and graduated with a Bachelors of Commerce. She got her Montessori Diploma in 1985 and taught ever since. Ashvina came to TBE in January of 2016 as Admin Assistant. During the years she got the opportunity to learn and work in different departments such as HR, Finance, Office Manager and Executive Assistant. Last summer TBE bought billing in house and her current focus area is Revenue Cycle Management. She is detail oriented and enjoys working with people. Ashvina volunteers to deliver meals to seniors and local shelters on the weekend. She loves to spend time with her family and grandkids. Ashvina loves her job because she enjoys hearing different points of view, and she feels her contributions help fuel the direction of our company.

Working with children comes naturally to Angela. Her mom was a special education teacher for 30 years and often had Angela join her for Take Your Child to Work Day. And in high school, Angela spent every summer as the nanny for a little boy with an autism spectrum disorder. It was this experience where her passion for working with children with autism started to blossom.

From there, she went on to graduate from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences. She learned about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in a non-normative development class and from that moment knew that ABA would be her life’s work.

Angela moved to the DFW area shortly after and began working at The Behavior Exchange as a therapist. She worked on her Master’s in Behavior Analysis at the same time. A year after graduating, she earned certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Now, as a Clinical Director at The Behavior Exchange, she brings a life-long passion to her work, holding a special place in her heart for children with limited language skills and working closely with families to develop healthy sleep habits.

Danielle’s passion for working with families is deeply personal and from the heart. Her younger brother has an autism spectrum disorder, and through their journey as a family, she found her purpose in life as an advocate for individuals with special needs.

After graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Danielle began volunteering at The Behavior Exchange. She saw passionate therapists, meaningful change for clients, and families with hope for the future. After a summer of volunteering, she officially joined the team as Director of Admissions and found her home with The Behavior Exchange family.

With her extensive experience working as a client advocate with insurance providers, Danielle perseveres to help individuals of all ages and abilities receive the services they need to reach their full potential. She feels truly honored by each and every family who entrusts The Behavior Exchange to be part of their journey and is committed to the organization’s core values, mission, and goal of being a beacon of hope for the community.

Adam has always had a passion for helping individuals of all ages thrive and reach their full potential. He’s also an enthusiastic musician, songwriter, leader, and devoted family man, who has been helping children and team members grow with The Behavior Exchange since 2010.

Prior to joining the team at The Behavior Exchange, Adam was a mortgage loan consultant and grad student, pursuing his master’s degree in Education at the University of North Texas. He graduated in 2013 and also earned a graduate academic certificate in Autism Intervention. The following year, after years as a Behavior Therapist and seeing first-hand the power of ABA and the meaningful impact it can have on children and their families, Adam became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He then commenced from the Stagen Leadership Academy after completing the Integral Leadership Program (ILP), a 52-week practice-based program designed to develop executives serious about transforming themselves, their teams, and their organizations.

Adam is truly grateful to be a part of a dynamic, inspiring and compassionate team, and he’s dedicated to bettering the lives of all children and their families through the delivery of the highest quality of ABA services, while supporting the amazing team at The Behavior Exchange.

As Supervisor of Technology, Marvin is charged with the creation of strategic IT initiatives that align with the mission, culture and long-term goals of The Behavior Exchange. He works closely with Directors, BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts), RBTs (Registered Behavior Therapists), and administrative staff to deliver innovative technologies and services that enhance teaching, learning, research, and client activities.

Marvin’s commitment to the success of The Behavior Exchange and its clients has resulted in improved data collection, analysis, mobile device management, and cloud-based file management infrastructure. Marvin graduated form the University of Texas in San Antonio with a BA in Psychology 2004. After graduating, Marvin wanted to give back to his community by dedicating his time commitment to provide a civil service. Marvin for which he commited 8 years to be a probation officer in Bexar County Tx. When the opportunity to join The Behavior Exchange arose Marvin jumped at the chance to continue to provide services for those in need and to work for an amazing organization and cause.

Soraya is from South Africa and moved to Texas in 1996. She graduated from The University of Texas and pursued a career, at that time, in Education. Soraya taught at a Montessori school for a few years and then took on a leadership role.

During her time in the education system, Soraya realized her passion was to assist children with special needs. So she joined The Behavior Exchange as a therapist, transitioned into a supervisory role in 2017, and a year and a half later, was promoted to Clinical Operations Manager.

She quickly learned the ins and outs of ABA operations and scheduling and successfully collaborates across departments to ensure The Behavior Exchange continues to provide quality services to clients and their families. She’s thankful to be part of such an amazing organization and excited to see what the future holds.

You could say Walter’s career started when he spent hours as a young child drawing superheroes and coloring maps. This passion, along with extraordinary swimming skills, landed him a full swimming scholarship at Texas Christian University, where he graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Graphics.

During the next 13 years, his design and art direction skills, conceptual-thinking abilities, and marketing-savvy know-how were honed at a few prestigious advertising and marketing agencies around the Dallas area. In the mid 2000s, he helped his wife Tammy Cline-Soza (founder and CEO of The Behavior Exchange) create a unique and concise brand for her new business. From logos and websites to uniforms, brand voice and visuals, Walter has been the main creative force for all things The Behavior Exchange.

Aside from giving birth to The Behavior Exchange brand, Walter is helping Tammy raise two amazing, beautiful children, River and Sierra. In his spare time (the two minutes he’s got per week), you can find Walter illustrating iconic landmarks of Dallas and Texas or looking around for this next open-water swim. Once he gets back in shape.

After 20 years of building The Behavior Exchange, literally from the ground up,
Tammy couldn’t be more proud of the team, culture, and organization that it has become.

As a family helping families, The Behavior Exchanges looks for opportunities that will make the biggest impact and produce life-changing outcomes – for clients, families, and even for team members. Tammy believes that if a team, a family, a community takes care of each other, the possibilities are endless and the relationships built along the way can make life more enriching and challenges easier to navigate. You could say her goal has been to build a kind of utopia full of support, love, and expertise that brings the best services possible to the community and ensures more families have access to those services.

Tammy and her family have dedicated their lives to the mission of The Behavior Exchange and continue to grow, learn, cultivate, challenge, support, and create better models for success. To that end, she is committed to her own leadership development and actively participates in advanced training, mentoring, and deep self-exploration on how to live out her purpose to love and support her family and help others reach their full potential. She takes her position very seriously and tries to serve as a channel for what the universe wants to come to fruition.

She also loves travel, gardening, being creative, MUSIC!, tennis, yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, being in nature, adventures, and more than anything, spending time with her husband Walter and their two beautiful children, River and Sierra.