Intensive early behavioral therapy may normalize the brain activity in children with autism when they look at faces and improve their social skills according to a recent study. This is on top of what was previously known that it could help develop language and thinking skills. Researchers looked at 48 autistic children between 18 and 30 months. Half of the children were treated with a new type of therapy called Early Start Denver Model for 20 hours per week for 2 years. After 2 years, researchers used electroencephalograms to measure the brain activity of the children with autism as well as of children without autism while they watched faces and toys. The majority of autistic children treated with the Early Start Denver Model showed greater brain activation when looking at faces rather than objects (a response common to children without autism). The opposite was found among the kids with autism who received other interventions.
The autistic children with increased brain activity at the sight of faces also had better social and behavioral skills. The study is the first to find underlying changes in brain function along with behavioral changes after early therapy. The full study can be found in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, November 2012.