Psychologist explores effective treatment options for children with autism disorders (w/ Video)

Apr 19, 2010
Psychologist explores effective treatment options for children with autism disorders
"Nao" robot

( -- When one out of every 100 children born in this country is diagnosed with autism, treatment for those children requires as much attention as the diagnoses.

“Ten or 20 years ago we were lucky to diagnose a child by age four or five,” says Joshua Diehl, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, who specializes in developmental disorders, with an emphasis on and .

“Now we’re able to reliably diagnose as early as 18 months, with some studies trying to pinpoint it within six months. Our ability to diagnose earlier - regardless of the treatment - means earlier intervention and better outcomes,” says Diehl.

As with many developmental disorders, the diagnosis of “autism” can mean something different for each child. Autism disorders fall within a spectrum of behaviors, some more serious and difficult to overcome than others.

“The signature characteristic for all with autism is difficulty communicating. They desire to be social, but comprehension is a barrier for them. They don’t always understand social conventions or norms,” Diehl says.

Helping children with autism break through those barriers and communicate more effectively is the focus of Diehl’s current research projects and therapies, all of which are behavior-based.

“In a simple conversation, there are gestures, facial expressions, words and voice inflection - all of which come naturally for most people,” Diehl explains.

“Children with autism can accomplish these behaviors individually, but putting them together is difficult for them. These intuitive behaviors need to be taught to them.”

In therapy sessions with children with autism, Diehl focuses on breaking down those individual behaviors and teaching communication piece by piece.

One method is through the use of “Nao,” a robot that is programmed to simplify various communication behaviors like gestures and , and teach children with autism how to use and understand them.

“The most important part of social interaction is understanding what’s being said and being able to be understood,” Diehl explains. “If we can bridge this social gap, it will open up so many doors for children with autism and help them in all aspects of their lives.”

Though working with the social robot is advantageous to many children with autism, not all respond to this form of therapy, particularly if they are older.

“We need to focus on services and therapies for children beyond the first few years of life,” Diehl says. “What can we do for a child with autism who’s 11, 12, even 18? These parents are still looking for ways to help their children.”

One of Diehl’s studies is geared toward older children and adolescents with high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome, and focuses on language comprehension.

“We are trying to understand how children with spectrum disorders perform on a range of tasks measuring language comprehension abilities, and compare them with typically developing children and adolescents.”

Diehl stresses the importance of continuing research in order to know what works for which children, and how to use that information for effective treatment plans.

“In an ideal scenario,” according to Diehl, “children would receive individualized treatment for areas in which they’re struggling, and have those tailored treatments continue throughout their lives.”

Explore further: Report advocates improved police training

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Children with autism may learn from 'virtual peers'

Feb 29, 2008

Using “virtual peers” -- animated life-sized children that simulate the behaviors and conversation of typically developing children -- Northwestern University researchers are developing interventions designed ...

Laughter Differs In Children With Autism

Jul 10, 2009

According to a recent paper entitled "Laughter Differs in Children with Autism: An Acoustic Analysis of Laughter Produced by Children with and without the Disorder" in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, childr ...

Mental disorders in parents linked to autism in children

May 05, 2008

Parents of children with autism were roughly twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, than parents of other children, according to an analysis of Swedish birth and hospital records ...

No link found between autism and celiac disease

May 01, 2007

Contrary to previous studies, autistic children are no more likely than other children to have celiac disease, according to new research that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 59th Annual Meeting ...

Children with autistic traits remain undiagnosed

Mar 22, 2010

There has been a major increase in the incidence of autism over the last twenty years. While people have differing opinions as to why this is (environment, vaccines, mother's age, better diagnostic practice, more awareness ...

Recommended for you

Report advocates improved police training

9 hours ago

A new report released yesterday by the Mental Health Commission of Canada identifies ways to improve the mental health training and education that police personnel receive.

Meaningful relationships can help you thrive

16 hours ago

Deep and meaningful relationships play a vital role in overall well-being. Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being ...

Learning to read involves tricking the brain

17 hours ago

While reading, children and adults alike must avoid confusing mirror-image letters (like b/d or p/q). Why is it difficult to differentiate these letters? When learning to read, our brain must be able to inhibit ...

User comments : 0