18 April 2017

'Video feedback' might help treat autism in babies

Therapists are helping parents to understand and respond to their baby, and detect if they're suffering from autism.


There might be no cure for autism, but it is crucial that the condition be detected as early as possible.

According to a new British study a "video feedback" intervention programme may allow for early detection and treatment of child autism.

Autism spectrum disorder is a range of conditions including problems with social interaction, repetitive behaviour and communication. There are many types of autism, each with its own set of challenges. 

A 2016 study investigated the appropriate tools needed for detecting symptoms of autism spectrum disorder in 26 young isiZulu-speaking South African children. The study also included a video-recorded observation of children and caregivers in their home environment to help make a diagnosis.

A promising step forward

"Parents often sense their child is developing differently very early on, yet getting a diagnosis of autism can take years," said Jon Spiers in a news release from Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, which published the study.

"Being able to deliver an intervention during this uncertain period would be a promising step forward for many thousands of families," he said.

Spiers is CEO of the British autism research charity Autistica, which helped fund the study.

A Health24 review states that the prevalence of autism is one in 86 children.

Typically it affects more boys than girls and knows no socio-economic or ethnic boundaries, according to Autism SA. Children who are diagnosed with autism need early intervention and treatment as soon as possible.

At present there is no laboratory test that can detect the presence of autism. It is essentially a diagnosis made through clinical observation by trained professionals.

What does video feedback entail?

According to a study published in CALICO Journal video feedback allows for “situated research”, which refers to lived experience for the purpose of understanding and reflection.

Video has resulted in freeing research from an exclusively laboratory-based approach, and broadened its scope to include self-viewing and other-viewing in a reflective setting.

Video feedback intervention programme

The research included 54 families with babies. The infants had an increased risk of autism because they had a sibling with autism.



Of the 54 families, 28 took part in the feedback programme. The remaining families were the study's control group.

The programme included a minimum of six home visits. The programme therapist used video feedback to help the parents understand and respond to their baby's individual communication style. The goal was to improve infant attention, communication, early language development and social engagement.

The programme lasted for five months, while the babies were ages 9 to 14 months. The children were then assessed at ages 15 months, 27 months and 39 months of age.

The researchers said they observed a reduction in the severity of emerging signs of autism in babies involved in the programme compared to those in control group families.


Study leader Jonathan Green is a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Manchester.

"What is novel about this study is how early we began the intervention. We know that similar kinds of intervention later in childhood can show long-term effects; here we have shown that beginning intervention of this kind in the first year of life can produce important improvements for the babies over the medium term in development, continuing after the therapy finishes," Green said.

"This is a very promising finding that provides an excellent basis for future larger-scale trials using the intervention in very early development," he said.

Kathryn Adcock is head of neurosciences and mental health for the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom.

"Although this is quite a small study and therefore can't provide a definitive answer, the work shows very promising indications of the benefits of early intervention," she said.

Read more:

Could a blood test spot autism in childhood?

Brain scans can spot autism in infancy

Girls and boys have different autism profiles