New Delhi: With Priyanka Chopra`s act of an autistic girl in critically-acclaimed film `Barfi` bringing into focus the issues faced by children suffering from the disorder, a new study has found that significant improvement in their social interaction and motor behaviour is possible.
Doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) here have shown that this could be achieved through a well-designed intervention programme addressing these autistic children, giving hope to thousands of affected parents, considering that autism is on an alarming rise in the world.
The doctors found that impaired development and poor social interaction are the main features in children with autism.
Children ranging in ages 3 to 10 years were observed for a year during which interventions like eye contact exercises, verbal therapy, attention improvement exercises were addressed to them.
Results of the behavioural intervention were more than positive with clinical psychologists and paediatricians finding that during over a year-long follow up of autistic kids they significantly improved their speech, social interaction, cognitive skills and behaviour.
"The intervention has given some hope for children with autism. Working together we can improve the status of such children and help correct the deficiency to an extent," said Vinod Paul, head of the Paediatrics Department at AIIMS.
The most recent study conducted in October 2009 by the National Institute of Health in US showed that the prevalence of autism is now one in every 90 children, a drastic rise from 1 in every 150 reported in 2008.
Doctors said their intervention has shown that "with proper intervention programmes and right kind of support from parents, there is hope to enable children with autism to live an independent and successful life."
Showcased during an exhibition to mark the Institute`s Foundation Day, the study followed 50 children out of 75 who attended AIIMS autistic clinic for a year.
The intervention saw a decline in their deficiencies and the hidden potential of autistic kids unfolded," Paul said.
Doctors found 90 per cent of these children with autism had mental retardation as the main presenting feature. In 85 per cent children, poor social interaction was observed and in 80 per cent poor eye contact was observed. As many as 80 per cent preferred to be alone, 75 per cent had communication problems, 60 per cent had stereotypical behaviour and as many were hyperactive. A much lesser percentage (19) had seizures.
Psychological intervention used on kids involved use of Allied Behaviour Analysis based on the principles of Operant Conditioning, a well known behaviour reinforcing strategy.
"The principle behind the intervention is simple ? behaviour when positively reinforced is likely to be repeated and when negatively reinforced is likely to be avoided," doctors said.
The intervention involved subjecting children to eye contact exercises where parents are asked to show reinforcement by moving slowly from the child`s eyes to their own to build eye contact and to repeat this act every time the child responds to his name.
"Then we had imitation exercises to get the child to imitate basic tasks. For verbal speech stimulation we used verbal imitation, labelling of body parts and objects and to improve a child?s attention we made him sit down and engaged him in interesting activities such as sorting," said Dr Sangeeta, who was part of the intervention.
She said parents could learn these interventions to help children with autism.
The results collated after a year of follow up showed marked improvements in children who were subjected to Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist on which a higher score indicates the severity of autism.
"Between baseline score and post intervention score, speech of children had improved from the range of 24-26 to 20 -24; social interaction had improved from 34-36 to 26-28. Cognitive skills had shown improvement with the performance going up from 34-36-38 to 28-30. Behaviour improved with the score post intervention dropping to the range 30 to 32 as against 42 to 44 when children with autism had come to the clinic," the findings showed.
Autism is a behavioural syndrome characterised by
qualitative impairment in social interaction and communication with restricted repetitive stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities.
It is defined by a certain set of behaviours and is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals differently and in varying degrees. There is no known single cause of autism.
Dr Sangeeta said studies on prevalence of sleep disorders among autistic kids in comparison to typically developing children, a study on blood heavy metals levels in children with autism, development of training module for parents and children with autistic spectrum disorders were also being conducted at AIIMS.
The Institute runs a dedicated clinic every Thursday where assessment and therapy is instituted to these children by clinical physchologists and paediatric neurologists.