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Scientists find early signs of autism
By Bruce Bower
Some infants headed for a diagnosis
of autism can be reliably identified at
14 months using five key behavior problems, suggests an ongoing long-term
study described March 11.
These social, communication and
motor difficulties broadly align with
psychiatric criteria for diagnosing
autism spectrum disorder in children at around age 3, said psychologist
Rebecca Landa of the Kennedy Krieger
Institute in Baltimore. In her investigation, the presence of all five behaviors at
14 months predicted an eventual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in
15 of 16 children.
“That’s much better than clinical judgment at predicting autism,” Landa noted.
Her five predictors include child-
rens’ lack of response to attempts by
others to engage them in play, infrequent
attempts to initiate joint activities, few
types of consonants produced when try-
ing to communicate vocally, problems in
responding to vocal requests and a keen
interest in repetitive acts, such as star-
ing at a toy while twirling it.
to learn from tV
Study may explain why kids
under 3 learn little from video
By Bruce Bower
To get toddlers to learn new information
from educational television shows or
DVDs, don’t bribe or bully them — just
trick them. One way to teach young children with video is to convince them that
what they see on the screen is as real as
anything they encounter in person, new
research presented March 12 shows.
Through elaborate experimental
deception, researchers were able to erase
much of the “video deficit” in learning
observed in children under age 3.
“Under normal circumstances, television and videos may be so captivat-
ingly interesting to young children
that they have difficulty learning from
these media,” said psychologist Sarah
Roseberry of Temple University in
Philadelphia. In the experiment, overcoming that obstacle hinged on youngsters believing that researchers could
turn stuffed animals into real animals by
putting the toys inside a “magic Sesame
Machine” with tubes on the sides and a
video screen on the front.
Almost no studies have tried to
unravel reasons for the video deficit, said
psychologist Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington in Seattle.
In Roseberry’s study, 20 toddlers ages
30 to 35 months and 20 kids ages 36 to
42 months watched videos in which
Sesame Street characters taught them
about two novel verbs, one real and the
other made up. Only the older group
demonstrated substantial word learning afterward.
In a second experiment, 20 children
ages 24 to 29 months and another 20 kids
ages 30 to 35 months watched videos on
the magic Sesame Machine. Beforehand,
children watched a researcher place a
stuffed animal into a tube on one side
of the machine, as if putting it inside the
television console. A video showing the
toy then began to play, and the researcher
explained the machine’s magical ability
to make stuffed animals real. Once the
video concluded, the researcher removed
the stuffed animal from a tube on the
other side of the console.
After watching the same videos in the
magic machine, younger but not older
toddlers showed evidence of having
learned most words from the program.
That reflects the fact that younger
children told their parents that they
believed in the magic machine, whereas
older children usually weren’t tricked,