Scientists hail new treatment for autism
Scientists say they have established the first successful treatment for autism, after training parents in how best to respond to the needs of children with the condition.
The study, published in The Lancet, found "striking" and "remarkable" long-term changes after toddlers were enrolled in intensive communication programmes aimed at coaxing them out of their shell.
Researchers called for a national roll-out of the schemes, which were found to reduce overall severity of symptoms by 17pc.
The study - the largest ever randomised controlled trial for treatment of autism - tracked 152 families for six years, starting when children were aged between two and four.
Half of the families were enrolled in communication training, which records interaction between children and parents, replaying it in slow motion, while giving insights about how best to respond to each cue.
Among those given the coaching, children with severe symptoms fell from 55pc to 46pc over six years.
The remainder of the group saw problems worsen, with the number suffering from severe symptoms rising from 50 to 63pc by the end of the trial.
Researchers said the study by the University of Manchester, King's College London and Newcastle University showed the first long-term effect of an early intervention for autism.
Lead author Jonathan Green, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester, said: "Our findings are encouraging, as they represent an improvement in the core symptoms of autism previously thought very resistant to change."
Professor Andrew Pickles, from King's College London, said the differences between the two groups at the end of the six years were "strikingly significant" and had surprised those involved in the study, with scores showing improvements in communication skills and reduced repetitive behaviour.
Dr Catherine Aldred, consultant speech and language therapist at Stockport NHS Trust and the University of Manchester, said the difficulties of communicating with children with severe autism were such that specialist skills were required.
"They [children with autism] need more than 'good enough' they need exceptional," she said, describing such methods as helping parents to "press just the right button at just the right time". (© Daily Telegraph, London)