Category Archives: Our Blog

Peer-Led Intervention Helps Moms of Kids with Autism.

That’s what we do here at the Autism Center of Pittsburgh. We have parents of kids with autism ready to help.

Dr. John Carosso – Executive Director

Peer-led interventions that target parental well-being can significantly reduce stress, depression and anxiety in mothers of children with disabilities, according to new findings released in the journal Pediatrics.

In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Vanderbilt University examined two treatment programs in a large number of primary caregivers of a child with a disability. Participants in both groups experienced improvements in mental health, sleep and overall life satisfaction and showed less dysfunctional parent-child interactions.

“The well-being of this population is critically important because, compared to parents of typically developing children, parents of children with developmental disabilities experience substantially higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, and as they age, physical and medical problems,” said lead author Elisabeth Dykens, Ph.D., Annette Schaffer Eskind Professor and director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development and professor of Psychology and Human Development, Pediatrics and Psychiatry. “Add to this the high prevalence of developmental disabilities – about one in five children – and the fact that most adult children with intellectual disabilities remain at home with aging parents, we have a looming public health problem on our hands.”

Nearly 250 mothers of children with autism or other disabilities were randomized into one of two programs: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Positive Adult Development (PAD). The MBSR approach is more physical, emphasizing breathing exercises, deep belly breathing, meditation and gentle movement. The PAD approach is more cognitive and uses exercises such as practicing gratitude.

Supervised peer mentors, all mothers of children with disabilities, received four months of training on the intervention curriculum, the role of a mentor and research ethics. The peer mentors led six weeks of group treatments in 1.5-hour weekly sessions with the research participants.

At baseline, 85 percent of participants had significantly elevated stress, 48 percent were clinically depressed and 41 percent had anxiety disorders.

Both the MBSR and PAD treatments led to significant reductions in stress, depression and anxiety and improved sleep and life satisfaction among participants, and mothers in both treatments also showed fewer dysfunctional parent-child interactions. While mothers in the MBSR treatment saw the greatest improvements, participants in both treatments continued to improve during follow-up, and improvements in other areas were sustained up to six months after treatment.

“Our research and findings from other labs indicate that many mothers of children with disabilities have a blunted cortisol response, indicative of chronic stress,” Dykens said. “Compared to mothers in control groups, this population mounts a poorer antibody response to influenza vaccinations, suggesting a reduced ability to fight both bacterial and viral infections. They also have shorter telomeres, associated with an advanced cellular aging process, and have poorer sleep quality, which can have deleterious health effects. All of this results in parents who are less available to manage their child’s special needs or challenging behaviors.”

DSM-V and the Autism Diagnosis: Is the Change Hurting Children?

Fuss

There has been lots of fuss about the DSM-V and the autism diagnosis; will it result in less children meeting diagnostic criteria and therefore less children getting the services they need? Is this concern legitimate? I’ve written about this in prior posts, but here I’ll provide further elaboration.

What’s the problem, and what is the diagnostic criteria?

Is the DSM-V Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis the issue at hand, or is it another DSM-V diagnosis that might be a “problem”?

First let’s take a brief look at the ASD, the criteria includes:

1. “Deficits in social communication and social interaction” manifesting in, for example, poor back-and-forth communication, deficient eye contact, and absence in an interest in peers or inability to sustain the relationship/interaction.
2. “Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, and/or hyper or hypo-sensitivities.

There are also specifiers for severity of the social and verbal deficit, and the extent of restricted interests. Finally, there are specifiers for “with or without intellectual impairment”, “with or without language impairment”, and “associated with a known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor”.

So, you can see that this criteria, with the specifiers, cover everything from what formerly was called ‘Autistic Disorder’ at the more severe end; ‘Asperger’s Disorder’ at the ‘high end’ and ‘Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS’ for those in-between.

Is There Another Diagnosis?

Yes, there is another ‘competing’ diagnosis, and this is where there may be a potential “problem”.  In that regard, the DSM-V has a new diagnosis referred to as “Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder (SCD), which entails “persistent difficulties in the social use of verbal and nonverbal communication manifesting in”, for example, difficulty “greeting others and sharing information”, using “overly formal language”, and “following rules for conversation” such as in turn-taking and rephrasing, and “difficulty understanding what is not explicitly stated.”

This diagnosis would cover those kiddos who may have autism-like verbal and social deficits and kiddo’s who ‘don’t quite get it’ socially, but who do not have any restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior or interests.

Which DSM-IV diagnosis will be most affected by the SCD diagnosis?

At least a portion of the kiddo’s who would have been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) will now be diagnosed with Social Communication Disorder (SCD). Research published in January 2014 in the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that about 8% of kids diagnosed within the autism spectrum under DSM-IV have subsequently been changed to SCD, which is a far-cry from the 20% predicted earlier by the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Most of the children whose diagnosis was changed had been diagnosed with PDDNOS, and were changed to SCD, which is understandable given that PDDNOS has such vague criteria. Those who had been diagnosed with Autistic Disorder or Asperger’s Disorder under DSM-IV were largely unaffected.

Nonverbal Learning Disability

Another “diagnosis” that may be impacted is “nonverbal learning disability” which essentially is the same as SCD. However, given that there has never been a formal DSM-IV “nonverbal learning disability” diagnosis, now these NVLD kiddo’s too have a better diagnostic fit with SCD.

Consequence of the DSM-V?

It’s likely this change in diagnosis to SCD, for the very few children who will be affected, will generally be positive. In that regard, having seen these kiddo’s first-hand, they clearly struggle with verbal and social skills, but are not “autistic”. Up to now, the diagnostic options have been few besides PDDNOS. These children can still obtain services consisting of individual and group speech/language, and outpatient social skill training, while avoiding the autism diagnosis that does not quite fit anyway.

Hope that helps to clarify the effect of DSM-V regarding the “Autism Spectrum Disorder” vs. PDDNOS, Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s, and Social Communication Disorder.

Feel free to follow-up with me, with any questions at doctorc@autismcenterofpittsburgh.com

Dr. John Carosso, Psy.D.

Do Weighted Blankets Improve Sleep in Children and Teens with Autism? See If You Are Correct.

Study finds that kids and parents like them, but weighted blankets don’t increase sleep time or decrease time it takes to fall asleep

Photo courtesy Cozy Comforter

New research finds that weighted blankets don’t significantly improve sleep in children and teens who have autism. Overall, however, the families who completed the study preferred the weighted blanket over a nonweighted one that otherwise resembled it. The findings appear today in the journal Pediatrics.

Weighted blankets have long been popular for calming individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Typically the blankets contain metal or plastic beads sewn into quilted layers. The idea is that the weight provides gentle, deep pressure that addresses the sensory-integration issues often associated with ASD. These sensory issues, in turn, may add to the sleep disturbances that are likewise common among those who have autism. Studies suggest that 40 to 80 percent of individuals with ASD have significant sleep problems – in particular difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

During the first half of the study, 63 children – ages 5 to 16 – slept with either a weighted blanket or a nonweighted look-alike blanket for 12 to 16 weeks. After this first phase, the two groups switched blankets and used the other blanket for approximately two weeks.

During the study, the children wore sleep monitors each night and their parents completed sleep diaries. Parents and children also completed a questionnaire about the experience.

Overall, the researchers found no difference in overall sleep time, time needed to fall asleep or nighttime wakings with the weighted versus the look-alike nonweighted blanket. However most of the children reported preferring the weighted blanket. Their parents likewise reported preferring to use it with their children.

Autism + Intense Interest = Career?

Matthew was just one year old when I noticed his intense interest in wheels at a Gymboree class.

“He’ll probably be an engineer someday!” I told my husband.

A few months later, a friend noticed Matthew’s fascination with lights. “Maybe he’ll be an electrician some day!” Over time, there were the drains,(“Plumbing!) the cows (“Farming!), the gates and the airplanes.

These cycles of intense interests came and went, but the one that stuck was lawn and garden maintenance. Matthew watched with great interest while garden crews in our neighborhood mowed, trimmed, pruned, raked and edged. He smiled and jumped gleefully for the finale as gardeners strapped on their gas-powered leaf blowers and cleared any stray grass , dirt or leaf trimmings before loading up their trucks and driving away.

Matthew got his first gas powered mower when he was eleven, and now, at 28, he works nearly every day maintaining the landscape at Camphill Communities California near Santa Cruz and other properties in the area.
First mower

***

As a child, Jonathan Murphy, who has Asperger’s, showed interest in (and a talent for) acting. His mother Jodi encouraged him to audition and perform in community theater. She wondered how she could help Jonathan leverage his talent in acting into a career as he approached adulthood. When Jonathan was 16, he tried voice over lessons.

Jonathan, now in his 20’s, has been in the voice over business for the 5 years.

Jodi pooled her family’s talents—Jonathan’s voice over, her daughter’s writing, her husband’s technical expertise and her own marketing skills—and collaborated with creative professionals to develop a children’s book and storytelling app series for the iPad.

Geek Club Books debuted in Fall of 2013 and has received many awards and acclaim since. Now Jonathan is performing the story telling series, Dorktales, live.

Watch Jonathan and book a show here.
Jonathan Murphy

***

Dani Bowman always loved to draw, and when she was 11 years old, she became extremely interested in Pokemon. Her aunt told her that the co-creator of Pokemon, Satoshi Tariji—who was also on the autism spectrum—created his company Game Freak, Inc. when he was 17. So Dani set out to beat his record and founded Power Light Animation Studios.

Read an Kerry Magro’s interview with Dani on Autism After 16.

“I believe that many with autism can lead fulfilling and successful lives doing what they love,” say’s Dani, “For me, that’s animation!
Dani Bowman

Dani Bowman

I share these stories with you today because I remember how anxious I felt as a young mom about “the future”. I would have felt better if I knew there would be a variety options not just for jobs, but for housing–and even a social life.

I encourage you to share your concerns and success stories, too, either in the comment section, or here.

Let’s all help each other.

In the next few weeks, I’ll also share stories about community resources and housing option for people with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Stay tuned…

You might also enjoy this post: In which I again wonder what he’ll do when he grows up.

It’s written by Ellen Siedman, author of one of my favorite blogs, Love That Max

Autism: Ten Ways to De-Stimulate Those ‘Stims’

Children with autism invariably demonstrate what are called ‘self-stimulatory behaviors’. These are compulsive rituals and behaviors that can be quite challenging to squelch; including hand-flapping, rocking, jumping, squealing, pacing, echoing, and obsessing. To manage these behaviors, parents must first realize that we all ‘self-stimulate’ to one degree or another; hopefully, we do so in more socially acceptable ways. Take a look around you, and you’ll see finger, pencil, and foot-tapping, pacing, biting fingernails, chewing on a pencil, rocking in a rocking chair… These are outlets for our anxiety and energy. It’s also important to note that, equally often, these behaviors tend to be self-soothing as opposed to stimulating. So, with those considerations in mind; here’s what to do:

  1. Determine the underlying purpose of the behavior. For example, is your child rocking after an over-whelming day (self-soothing), or pacing when bored (self-stimulating).
  2. Find more appropriate or less noticeable avenues of expression. This would include finger or hand-flapping as opposed to flapping the entire arm; going for a brisk walk or jog rather than pacing, using a trampoline rather than jumping.
  3. Teach more appropriate coping strategies, including teaching mindful breathing (deep breathing), healthy self-talk, and communicating thoughts and feelings to problem-solve.
  4. Limit these ‘stimming’ behaviors to certain times of the day, and particular places.
  5. Keep your child occupied with more appropriate activities. Children who are unoccupied are more prone to self-stimulate.
  6. Play music that is soothing, enjoyable, or with a fast tempo, depending on whether bored or anxious.
  7. Anticipate what causes your child stress, and prepare ahead of time either by avoiding the stressor, or helping your child to better-cope (deep breathing; allowing for breaks from the stressful activity, picture schedule…).
  8. If your child is obsessive, for example, on the military or the tornado’s, such can be limited to a particular time or place. However, another approach is to permit your child free indulgence as long as another topic is broached, in conversation, in less than two minutes, or some similar arrangement. Of course, this would need to be rehearsed and practiced.
  9. Reinforce (praise, stickers, hugs…) appropriate behavior; do not punish self-stimulatory behavior.
  10. In the event that the self-stimulatory behavior is self-injurious, or unresponsive to the aforementioned strategies, it’s important to seek professional treatment. Call us toll-free at 1-855 HOPE 360.

I trust you’ll find these strategies to be effective. Please provide some feedback regarding what you’ve found to be helpful. Also, feel free to ask any questions and don’t forget to subscribe to regularly receive our posts the emails. Also, if you found this helpful, why not forward to a friend. God bless.

Asperger’s and Social Outings: Don’t leave it to chance

Written by Dr. John Carosso

The Challenge

In my work with parents, it’s all too common to hear the concern that their child, with high functioning Autism/Asperger’s, initially tends to ‘fit-in’ but, invariably, peers begin to notice peculiar tendencies, and social immaturity, and then shy away from their child. Of course, this causes distress, sadness, and frustration for everyone involved.

The Dilemma

Parents want to promote their child’s independence, and give them opportunities to socialize. Consequently, they’ll let their children play in the neighborhood, or participate in a sport or activity. However, again, invariably there are problems and the child feels distressed.

The Answer

It is vital and necessary to encourage social opportunities for children with high functioning Autism and Asperger’s. The key is to “success” is four-fold:

1.) Provide ongoing, child-friendly, rehearsal of social skills, and preparation for the social encounter.

2.) Monitor the social situation. The ‘monitoring’ is done by an adult who is familiar with the child, understands the potential problems, and is instructed how to intervene. This could be the parent, neighbor, coach, youth pastor, cafeteria aide, teacher, teacher’s aide, family friend, relative, babysitter, librarian, camp counselor, TSS, Mobile Therapist… Actually, it could also include an older sibling or peer, if mature and trustworthy in that regard. The adult does not necessarily need to be well-trained, but simply have an understanding of what may ‘not go so well’ and some simple steps on how to respond. In that regard, it’s likely unwise to simply send-off the child to the social encounter with expectation that ‘all will go well.’ Structure and over-sight is imperative.

3.) Group-oriented social skill training. However, it can be quite challenging for a parent to find the proper social group for their child with Asperger’s. These high functioning kiddos, whose symptoms are often mild, don’t fit-in so well with children struggling with more severe autism. Groups for such children, especially those with very subtle symptoms, are not especially abundant. Here at Community Psychiatric Centers, we put together group therapy sessions for just these type of children. However, otherwise, the pickings remain slim. Consequently, we must rely heavily on social gatherings with typical peers, but with adult oversight.

4.) To the extent possible, instruct and help peers to be compassionate, empathetic, and tolerant. Many kids will rise to the occasion, if given some direction and information.

The Bottom Line

Your child with Asperger’s needs to be monitored, when possible, in a social setting. Reinforce good social skills, and gently and tactfully redirect peculiar tendencies. Don’t leave it to chance. Educate adults who will be present during the encounter on what to ‘look out for’, and inform of simply ways to intervene. That is the recipe for success.

Please let me know your success stories and how they came about. Thank you. God bless.

Let Us Take A Look At ‘PICA’…….Shall We Demystify?

Pica: A Guide For Professionals – free download.
http://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/sciencedocs/atn/pica_professionals_guide.pdf

Also check out Dr. Carosso’s blog on this topic (Pica) at on our website and in the free download of my ‘Best of Blogs’ Manual at autismcenterofpittsburgh.com): The Best of Dr. C’s Blogs

 
Demystifying ‘Pica’

First, what is it, and what’s with the name?

Pica is an unusual compulsion to eat nonfood items. It goes beyond ‘mouthing’ objects to actually swallowing; most common items include dirt, clay, paint chips, chalk, baking soda, feces, hair, glue, toothpaste , and soap. However, the list of potential items is endless. The condition most often occurs in two to three year old children with developmental delays, autism, people with epilepsy, pregnant women, and those with brain injuries. The condition must persist for more than a month to be diagnosable. The name is Latin from the Magpie, that bird with an indiscriminate appetite.

What causes it?

Some suggest that the child or individual is attempting to compensate for lacking minerals, but this is inconclusive and, besides, the ingested substance does not always contain that lacking mineral. The condition may also carry-over from the developmentally appropriate tendency to mouth objects. There are also secondary gains that may sustain the behavior (attention-seeking or avoidance of an unfavored task) but these likely do not originally cause the disorder but can be helpful to consider in treatment. Pica is also being considered as a complexity within the spectrum of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and there are also sensory factors that have been implicated. Moreover, ingesting nonfood items is also a cultural practice in some regions.

Is it common?

Yes, it’s surprisingly common. Among mentally and developmentally disabled people, especially those ages 10 to 20, pica is the most common eating disorder and is found in 20 percent of children treated at mental health clinics. Between ages one and six, this non-food craving disorder can be found at rates of 10-20%. The exact rate for children with autism is unclear but studies of mentally challenged adults found rates of upwards of 25%. In developing countries, the rates can be as high as 74% for pregnant women. The condition dates back to Roman times but was not clinically chronicled till 1563.

What do we do about it?

The treatment depends on whatever identifiable cause can be ascertained. We first screen for any mineral deficiencies and accommodate accordingly. Treatment protocols also assess for any toxic levels. Behavioral interventions are considered through principles of applied behavioral analysis (ABA) to determine triggers and anything potentially reinforcing. For example, if the behavior is sustained via the inadvertent provision of extra attention, or by enabling avoidance a non-preferred task, we treat by providing minimal attention and ensuring that the child cannot avoid the task. The youngster is also highly reinforced for appropriate food choices, and sensory issues are targeted by finding similar oral-sensory options. A “Pica Box” can also be helpful: a container of edible items for the child to mouth. Of course, during this process, close physical monitoring is vital to redirect the behavior. Various medications can be helpful, especially if the condition has an anxiety-related (OCDish) undertone. Aversive techniques have been used in more extreme situations but this obviously is absolute last resort.

Outcome?

Pica tends to wax and wane in severity, and subside as the child ages. However, once the condition surfaces, there is an increased chance it will resurface again later. Nevertheless, I’ve seen quite positive outcomes with behavioral approaches; keeping the condition in check and quite contained, if not extinguished entirely.

I hope that helps to understand the basics of Pica. By all means, contact me here with any questions or thoughts on the matter. God bless.

Autism: Facts and Fallacies Lets clear some things up:)

First: “autism” is not a diagnosis, but a term used to describe the wide spectrum of autistic disorders, ranging from Autistic Disorder, to Asperger’s, to Pervasive Developmental Disorder NOS.

Second: children with “autism” are, far more often than not, loving, affectionate, and empathic (to one degree or another) especially with their family members.

Third: These children are typically not mentally retarded but, rather, intelligent. However, their language deficits often interfere with learning.

Fourth: the “epidemic” is among the higher functioning types of autism. The rates of children with ‘Autistic Disorder’ have always been, and remain, at about 1-2% of the population. The reason for the increase in rates for these ‘higher functioning’ kiddos (often those diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder or Asperger’s) may be due to some environmental toxin and that practitioners are now diagnosing children who would have ‘slipped through the cracks’ years ago.

Finally: we don’t know what causes autism, but there is growing evidence that vaccinations don’t. Hope that helps to clear things up. Lets hear your response. God bless.

Autism: What Works; What Doesn’t; and What Causes It?

Every so often we get a review of research that tries to shed some light. Three government funded studies, published in Pediatrics, is the latest in that regard. Lets take a look:

Three targets

The researchers looked at meds, behavioral interventions and, for some reason, Secretin (it’s long been recognized that Secretin doesn’t work, not sure why they wasted time with that).

Medications

It’s long-since been established that meds don’t “cure” autism but treat symptoms, which can be helpful for some children. For example, the study indicates that Ability and Risperdal can decrease irritability, crying, hyperactivity, and noncompliance. However, side effects, especially with long-term use, can be troubling.

Behavioral Interventions

Behavioral strategies are undoubtedly effective for all kids with autism. There is a host of studies suggesting that discrete trial and other interventions, relying on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), improve children’s IQ, language, and social skills. The question, however, is how much any given child benefits? In fact, it’s disheartening to note how much we don’t know about the traditional interventions based in ABA, early intervention programs, and parent-training models. Upon the researcher’s analysis of the years of past research, they found the results biased and flawed. Moreover, generalizing any finding is challenging given the wide range of functioning demonstrated by kids on the spectrum, i.e. two children may both be diagnosed with PDD, but present very differently. Not to mention factoring-in the cost-benefit ratio; Lovaas found his discrete trial methods were very effective, but at 30 hours per week of individualized attention, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. These days, trying to persuade any insurance company to pay for that is an uphill battle.

We are what we eat?

In a separate set of analyses, there is more evidence that we can “let food to be thy medicine” (Hippocrates). It only stands to reason; what we put in our bodies affects every aspect of our functioning. Would you put water in your car’s gas tank? It’s well known that children with autism tend to have nutritional deficiencies, gut problems, and food allergies. Upwards of 69% of parents report positive outcomes from dietary regimens including going gluten and casein free. Yes, these surveys can be quite biased, but my own clinical experience suggests they’re not far off.

Just when you thought it was safe to vaccinate…

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? I wonder if this debate will ever end? I think it continues because it is difficult for parents, and practitioners, to not have some intuitive inclination that putting a bunch of chemicals in an infant can possibly cause some problems. We first hear that it’s harmless, then later that it does cause problems, then an onslaught from the medical community that it does not. Helen Ratajczak now tells us, in the Journal of Immunotoxicology (“Theoretical Aspects of Autism: Causes – A Review”) that “documented causes of autism include genetic mutations and/or deletions, viral infections, and encephalitis (brain damage) following vaccination” especially due to an ever-increasing number of vaccines given to an infant over a short period of time. Of course, critics suggest that her review is of theories, not science, so the saga continues. However, as I have blogged before, it’s encouraging that pediatricians are more prone to space-out the vaccinations.

Where does that leave us?

It leaves us where we usually find ourselves especially with any research related to social “science” or psychology; in the dark. Consequently, we have to rely on clinical experience and anecdotal evidence, which leads to a multi-faceted approach using strategies based in applied behavioral analysis including discrete trial and verbal behavior; social-based interventions including floor-time; psycho-educational pursuits whereby parents are taught how to intervene; beginning treatment with children as young as possible; modifying diet accordingly, and closely assessing the child’s response. That’s why data collection is vital; how else are we to know if the intervention is working? Fortunately, in spite of the ‘darkness’, with a diverse approach focused primarily on the fundamentals of ABA, and an open mind to trying new things, daily I see children’s improved eye contact, communication, play, and social interactions, and the accompanying smiles and happiness from parents and kids alike. So, hang in there, keep fighting the good fight, pay close attention to results (i.e. your child’s improvement) and then you can rest-assured that what you’re doing is effective, and that your child is benefiting. God bless.

Feel free to comment, and forward to a friend. Thanks.

>Written By Dr. John Carosso.

Autism, Eye Contact; What Babies Are Telling Us.

ATLANTA — How long a baby looks into people’s eyes provides an early sign of whether the child will probably develop autism, research has shown.

Infants who later developed autism began spending less time gazing into people’s eyes between 2 and 6 months of age, according to a study by the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta.

But building off this research, a new Marcus Center analysis found that some babies with declining eye fixation undergo a “course correction” at 18 months. They show an increase in gazing — and don’t develop autism.

This phenomenon, the authors say, could mean there’s a “window of opportunity” for early treatment and intervention, and it may be a feasible goal to foster such “course corrections” in a larger number of children at greater genetic risk for autism.

Their findings were presented at the world’s largest autism research conference, the International Meeting For Autism Research (IMFAR), taking place in Atlanta this week.

More than 1,700 researchers, delegates, autism specialists and students are gathering to exchange the latest scientific findings and stimulate research into the nature, causes and treatments for autism.

One in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a 30 percent increase from 1 in 88 two years ago, according to a March report by the CDC. Georgia has a slightly higher autism rate than the national average, which may reflect the better services and awareness in the state.

The disorder is characterized by difficulties with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.

There is no known cure for autism. But Autism Speaks, a national autism science and advocacy organization, says nearly half of autistic children who receive early intervention with applied behavioral therapy will recover “typical function” and another 40 percent will improve significantly.

Warren Jones, director of research at the Marcus Autism Center, and lead author of the new study, told GHN on Thursday that the children that showed a “course correction’’ actually began that change at 9 months old.

“Those infants found a way to learn about the social world,” making the change without treatment, Jones said.

But treatment could help babies who show greater vulnerability of developing autism, he said.

The average age of autism diagnosis is 4.5 to 5 years old. Jones said at some specialty clinics, diagnoses can be achieved at 18 to 24 months.

The Marcus Center, where more than 5,700 children received diagnostic and treatment services in 2013, currently has a treatment study of children 12 months old who have had early vulnerabilities identified.

“There has been an enormous increase in autism research,” Jones said. “We still have enormous amounts to learn.”

Do parents’ jobs matter?

A second study that garnered some interest at the conference is one that tracked the occupations of parents who have children with autism.

A researcher at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston discovered that certain jobs may be linked to a higher rate of children placed on the autism spectrum.

Aisha Dickerson of the Houston center used data from two previous studies with 273 children ages 7 to 18 years.

In these cases, fathers of the children were six times more likely to work in health care and four times more likely to work in finance, after adjustment for demographic variables, the analysis found.

Dickerson said Thursday that she divided the occupations into technical (not people-oriented) and non-technical (jobs that are people-oriented, such as teaching). She said she accounted for socioeconomic status in the analysis.

These parents of children with autism, she said, “may have characteristic symptoms or behaviors similar to autism.”

David Mandell, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, when asked to comment about the research, expressed reservations about it. He said that among other things, the occupation categories appeared too broad.

Dickerson told GHN she began the analysis after learning that many scientists and engineers had children with autism.

But she emphasized that she does not want to imply in her study “that people in technical occupations will have an autistic child.”

“It’s an exploratory analysis,’’ Dickerson said.