Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Very Low Birth Weight Infants, Social Interventions: Two New Studies on Autism Spectrum Disorders

By: Lewis First, MD, MS; Editor-in-Chief 

Child with autism spectrum disorder.
Photo by KOMU News via Flickr
There is not a general pediatric peer-reviewed journal that has not published multiple studies on autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs) and ours is no exception. This month, we further our knowledge of ASDs by publishing two fascinating studies on this developmental abnormality.

The first by Pyhälä et al. (doi: 10.1542/peds. 2014-1097) compared slightly more than 1,000 adults born in Helsinki at very low birth weight (less than 1,500 grams) with term-born adults for ASD traits based on various developmental test batteries.

The results are well worth your attention and indicate that if children are born very low birth weight (VLBW) there is a higher risk of ASD traits as adults, especially in regard to social interactions. Although the authors note that faster growth in weight, height and head circumference from birth to term seemed to reduce this risk, suggesting that targeted interventions to aggressively grow a VLBW infant may play a role in improving an infant’s neurodevelopment as well. Just the fact that the authors have followed a cohort of VLBW infants into adulthood and tracked their developmental skills make this an interesting study to reflect upon.

A second study by Wetherby et al. (doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-0757) randomized toddlers with ASDs to receive either a parent-implemented social intervention at home or a group early social interaction program in a clinic, both designed in either case to help parents better communicate with their children in everyday activities. In this case, the results of this trial had a clear winner—the individual early social interaction program.

To find out what the program consisted of and whether it can be adapted by ASD families in your practice, review the findings in this study. Given that doing so will not require large amounts of professional time nor overwhelming amounts of parental time makes this a must-read if you care for children with ASDs.

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