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Treating autism in babies

SAN FRANCISCO, Cali. – The latest numbers show one in 68 kids in the U.S. have some type of autism spectrum disorder. Most kids with autism are diagnosed and treated around age three. But what if you could spot the signs and treat these kids when they were just babies? Parents may be the key to success.

Bouncing, balling, or riding, life is never dull at the Hinson house. With five kids, mom Kristin Hinson is always in demand.

Two of Kristin's older sons have autism, so when her third son Noah was a baby, she was worried. 

"About nine months, he was starting to kind of retreat, a little bit," Hinson said.

She enrolled Noah in a study called "Infant Start" to see whether certain changes she made when Noah was just a baby could improve his outcome. 

"We're teaching parents how to corral their infant's attention. Helping them to increase their interest and increase the fun that they have in social interactions," explained Sally Rogers, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the UC Davis MIND Institute.

As part of a pilot trial, researchers studied seven at-risk babies who were between six and 15 months. Parents received training sessions and used the methods they learned at home to increase social interaction while performing everyday activities, such as changing a diaper.

"For changing, the baby might be here, and it's hard to get eye contact, so it's like, what would happen if you're changing table moved and now the changing table was here," Rogers said.

Results of the study showed six of the seven at-risk babies did not have autism or any developmental delays at age three. Noah was one of them.

Rogers explained, "He had a very rapid response. He's done very well."

"When he turned 18 months, he was in the clear. There was no diagnosis, there was no therapy," Hinson added.

Now at 4 years old, Noah is an active boy and has no signs of the disorder.

Hinson said, "He's a great kid. He's doing great!"

Siblings of kids who have autism are seven-times more likely to have the disorder. Children with autism typically receive early intervention treatment at age three, which is six to eight-times later than when the babies in the study received treatment.