April 20, 2016 2:13 am
Updated: April 20, 2016 4:04 am

BC researchers studying benefits of early help for children with autism

WATCH: Experts used to believe starting therapy for children with autism was best at age two. But as Catherine Urquhart explains, some very encouraging results show starting earlier could be even better

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Twenty-one-month-old Matthew is a happy little boy. He is talking and interacts well with others, a complete turnaround from a year ago when he showed many signs of autism.

“Back then he had no eye contact at all and lots of repetitive movements like moving his head or punching his head and he didn’t respond to his name,” mother Shelly Zheng said.

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Zheng knew something was wrong, even though several doctors dismissed her concerns. Matthew was only one year old when Zheng had him join a doctorate student’s test study on very early intervention.

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“The results were incredible,” said Amy Tanner, a behaviour consultant at Monarch House, which helps families of children with developmental delays. “Every session I saw him he was playing more, he was learning more skills. He was repeating words, he was imitating stuff spontaneously.”

The parent coaching model teaches moms and dads how to capture their child’s interest, turning everyday activities like mealtime and diaper changes into valuable learning moments that teach communication and social skills.

“The earlier the better,” Tanner said. “You can make the biggest gains the younger they are. Waiting til two or three, you’ve lost a critical year.”

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A larger study on autism intervention therapy for infants and toddlers is set to begin. The provincial government has committed $3 million to the research, which has shown promising results.

“He’s changing every week,” Zheng said of Matthew. “He’s a different boy right now. I’m so happy to see the change.”

Those interested in joining the early intervention study, are encouraged to contact Monarch House. They are looking for children aged nine months to 18 months who are showing early signs of autism. The research gets underway in June.

– With files from Catherine Urquhart

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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