While most toddlers acknowledge and participate in activities such a peek-a-boo and other games with smiles or other positive responses, infants with Autism Spectrum Disorders, however, often find these experiences distressing to say the least. Because of this, a common response is to isolate themselves from all aspects of the experience, including the loved ones playing with them.
This general disengagement is a common attribute of children living with ASD and unfortunately amplifies anti-social behavior as the child develops.
Research conducted at the Koegel Autism Center at UC Santa Barbara has indicated that abandoning traditional engagement games in favor of specialized exercises that the child enjoys lessons the severity of their ASD. This research was recently published in the most current issue of the Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions.
The study’s lead author and director of the center itself, Lyn Koegel, characterized the exercise or “game-playing” protocol as an altered Pivotal Response Treatment or PRT. Actually developed at UCSB, Pivotal Response Treatment is founded entirely on the base of embracing positive motivation.
Initially, the research team identified individual activities that seemed most enjoyable to the select children and worked with their parents to focus on these isolated actions. "We had them play with their infants for short periods, and then give them some kind of social reward," Koegel noted. "Over time, we conditioned the infants to enjoy all the activities that were presented by pairing the less desired activities with the highly desired ones." A social reward is infinitely more preferred over a physical object like a toy because it will continue to maintain crucial person-to-person interaction.
"The idea is to get them more interested in people," Koegel continued, "to focus on their socialization. If they're avoiding people and avoiding interacting, that creates a whole host of other issues. They don't form friendships, and then they don't get the social feedback that comes from interacting with friends."
At the end of a three-month study period, all of the children who engaged in the study had normative reactions to stimuli. While some children were still noted to demonstrate minor speech delays, the participating group demonstrated no social lags.
On a grand scale Koegel wants to establish even earlier benchmarks to help identify a lag of social development to help parents and their health care providers to implement therapeutic procedures as soon as possible for proper autism support.
“We have a grant from the Autism Science Foundation to look at lots of babies and try to really figure out which signs are red flags, and which aren't," stated Koegel. "A number of the infants who show signs of autism will turn out to be perfectly fine; but we're saying, let's not take the risk if we can put an intervention in play that really works. Then we don't have to worry about whether or not these kids would develop the full-blown symptoms of autism."