Early detection and intervention for infants at risk of autism spectrum disorders
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Autism is a developmental disorder that is characterized by abnonnal social interactions and communications as well as repetitive and restricted activities and interests. There is evidence of a genetic component, as 5% of younger siblings are diagnosed if their older sibling has been diagnosed. Autism is generally not diagnosed until age 3 at the earliest, yet it has been shown that early intervention for children with autism can greatly increase their functioning. Because of this, it is important that symptoms of autism are identified as early as possible so that diagnosis can occur as soon as possible to allow these children the earliest intervention. This thesis was divided into two parts. The first looked at the psychometrics of two proposed measures, the Parent Observation Checklist (POC), administered monthly, and the Infant Behavior Summary Evaluation (mSE), administered bimonthly, to see if they can be used with the infant population to identify autistic symptoms in infants who are at high risk for autism or related problems because they have an older sibling with autism. Study 1 reported acceptable psychometric properties of both the POC and IBSE in terms of test-retest reliability, internal consistency, construct validity and predictive validity. These results provide preliminary evidence that parent report measures can help to detect early symptoms of ASD in infants. The POC was shown to differentiate infants who were diagnosed from a matched group that was not diagnosed by 3 years of age. The second part of this thesis involved a telephone interview of parents who reported developmental and/or behavior problems in their high-risk infants that may be early signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). During the interview, a service questionnaire was administered to see what interventions (including strategies recommended by the researchers) their at risk infants and affected older siblings were receiving, how satisfied the parents were with them and how effective they felt the interventions were. 3 Study 2 also yielded promising results. Parents utilized a variety of services for at risk infants and children with ASD. The interventions included empirically validated early intervention (e.g., ABA) to non-empirically validated treatments (e.g., diet therapy). The large number of nonempirically validated treatments parents used was surprising, yet parents reported being involved and satisfied, and thought that the services were effective. Parents' perceptions of their stress levels went down slightly and feelings of competence rose when they accessed services for their infants. Overall, the results of this thesis provide new evidence that parent-report methods hold promise as early detection instruments for ASD in at-risk infants. More research is needed to further validate these instruments as well as to understand the variables related to the parents' choice of early intervention for their at risk and affected children.