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Early autism detection at U of SC offers help and hope to families

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Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 5:15 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 6, 2022 at 5:19 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Megan and Justin Force of Spartanburg, know firsthand the challenges and obstacles that parents of autistic children face. They are parents of three- bright and beautiful kids. Wrenley, Wilder, and 6 year old, Wyatt.

Wyatt, their oldest child was diagnosed with autism after years of observation as a toddler.

“Two and a half years, that’s what it took to get the diagnosis,” Megan said in an interview with WIS. “There are certain things that are not available to that child without a diagnosis.”

And that’s why earlier detection of autism is the focus of research at the Early Social Development and Interaction Lab at the Institute for Mind and Brain at U of SC.

Dr. Jessica Bradshaw is the director of the Lab. “We’re interested in pinpointing and identifying what happens really early say - in the first months before infants are even able to communicate, to see what might predict autism,” Bradshaw said.

The Force family is one of 100 families participating in a study that will track infants through the first few years of life.

Researchers are charting developmental progress, through regular visits and a battery of tests.

Wyatt’s sister Wrenley, who is 6 months old is enrolled in the study.

”Autism we know is in part genetic,” Dr. Jennings said. “So that’s a big reason why we study infant siblings of children with autism.”

The Force family volunteered to be a part of the program, and they say it’s been very helpful, as the researchers share their findings with the parents with each visit.

The Forces also say they appreciate the sense of community in the program.

”It’s scary in the sense that you don’t want bad news.” Justin Force said. “But then again, having an autistic child already, we know that early intervention is key.”

Dr. Bradshaw agrees. “We know, based on research that earlier interventions lead to better developmental outcomes for kids with autism,” she said.

Researchers watch and record the interactions between mom and baby, an as that connection and that engagement with a caregiver offers clues.

And they track eye movements to see how the child responds to stimuli. What they see, even as early as a few months old can be critical in getting an early diagnosis and getting a potentially autistic child the help they need sooner.

The program is accepting new participants for their ongoing study. To find out more-- head here: https://www.esdilab.com/participate.html

U of SC is also hosting a virtual talent show for the autism community, open to all children and teens across the state. For more information head here: https://www.esdilab.com/autisms-got-talent.html

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