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EXPERT AVAILABLE: Study on Early Intervention for Infants with Autism Symptoms Shows Promise, MU Autism Researcher Says

September 9th, 2014

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A new pilot study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders suggests that autism symptoms in infants can be reversed with an early, parent-driven intervention known as Infant Start. SungWoo Kahng, an associate professor in the School of Health Professions and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri, says the research is a promising first step in earlier detection and treatment of autism symptoms.

“Overall, the study is good news for those in the autism community,” Kahng said. “Although the study was small and the infants in the study were not diagnosed with autism – they only displayed autism symptoms – earlier detection of autism means professionals and parents can intervene sooner. Earlier interventions historically lead to better outcomes.”

Autism spectrum disorder diagnoses normally are not given before children are 18 months old, and the window of diagnosis and early intervention for best outcomes typically is between 18 months and 3 years of age, Kahng said. The infants in the study were 6 months to 15 months old and displayed autism symptoms, such as decreased eye contact, decreased social interest or engagement, repetitive movements and a lack of intentional communication.

“By identifying infants with autism symptoms and beginning interventions to eliminate those symptoms at such a young age, the University of California, Davis researchers have indicated that it may be possible for commonly practiced early interventions to positively affect a child’s developmental trajectory sooner than we had previously thought,” Kahng said. “Future studies should include more infants to further evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. This future research could help establish best practices for early detection and treatment of autism symptoms and lead to better outcomes among those who display signs of autism.”

Kahng joined the MU faculty in July 2014 after serving on the faculty in the Department of Behavioral Psychology and Senior Behavior Analyst on the Neurobehavioral Unit of the Kennedy Krieger Institute and in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He currently serves on the Board of Editors of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and Behavioral Interventions and has served as an ad hoc reviewer for numerous other journals. Kahng has more than 50 peer-reviewed publications and chapters.

The MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders is a national leader in confronting the challenges of autism and other developmental conditions through its collaborative research, training and service programs. Based on the medical home model, MU Thompson Center diagnostic, assessment and treatment services emphasize family-centered care that is comprehensive, coordinated, compassionate, culturally sensitive, and accessible. The center aims to support families from the point of initial contact through access to needed services in the community with routine follow-up care over time to ensure the best possible outcome for each child and family.