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Significant research is being carried out on possible causes of autism, as well as treatment methods. However, little research is being done as to whether it is possible to prevent from developing autism that is considered to be at high risk.

A team of researchers from the University of Manchester has done a study which looks at whether it is possible to prevent a child from developing autism, even if they are at high risk. The team took a sample of babies, all of whom were considered to be at high risk of ASD because they had an older sibling on the spectrum.

They have pioneered the use of audio-visual techniques which allow parents to understand their child’s needs better, and in doing so improve social behaviour and the child’s attention span and ability to engage in tasks. They have found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that after a 5 month intensive program, all the children and their families showed significant improvement in social parameters.

Whether the children go on to develop ASD or not, however, is very difficult to causally link to the presence or absence of this program, and the results of this study are by no means conclusive. Due to the success it enjoyed in improving social behaviours, it is worth considering for all children and families, and, although it has not been proved to reduce the likelihood of ASD, it is unlikely to do any harm. Families with an existing child with ASD may well consider that it would be worth looking into, if nothing else to satisfy themselves that they have done everything possible for their child.

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Reference: Parent-mediated intervention versus no intervention for infants at high risk of autism: a parallel, single-blind, randomised trial. Green, Jonathan et al. The Lancet Psychiatry.