Autism spectrum disorder in infancy: developmental considerations in treatment targets

Curr Opin Neurol. 2015 Apr;28(2):117-23. doi: 10.1097/WCO.0000000000000182.


Purpose of review: This review explores recent literature to prioritize aspects of development to be targeted by intervention for infants and toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Recent findings: Recent investigation of early development in ASD, including prospective studies of infants at increased risk (i.e., those with an affected older sibling) identifies impairments in four key developmental domains that are predictive of ASD. These domains are early attentional control, emotion regulation, social orienting/approach, and communication development. Reciprocal relationships exist among these domains, both in ASD and in typical development. Thus, these domains represent key intervention targets, informing treatment models under investigation in recent clinical trials.

Summary: By targeting the earliest and foundational manifestations of atypical development, we can capitalize on neural plasticity and build skills that are most likely to have scaffolding effects on development. The optimal timing and procedures of intervention remain empirical questions, but as the field moves toward earlier identification of risk, we are now poised to evaluate the impact of tailored approaches before the developmental cascade that leads to ASD is fully manifested. Consideration regarding community translation of ASD-specific interventions for infants and toddlers is also needed, with a focus on feasibility, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / economics
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Child
  • Communication*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Risk
  • Treatment Outcome