UC Davis researchers, aided by a $3.2 million NIH grant, investigate telehealth’s efficacy in predicting autism in infants. Led by Dr. Meagan Talbott, the five-year study involves 120 infants with developmental concerns. Four telehealth sessions over a year, followed by assessments at age three, aim to discern early indicators of ASD. Families receive support kits and compensation, contributing to a better understanding of developmental differences. With rising ASD prevalence (one in 36 children), this research explores telehealth’s potential in early detection and support, addressing gaps in understanding infant developmental outcomes.
The UC Davis study, backed by a substantial NIH grant, delves into telehealth’s applicability in forecasting autism among infants. Dr. Meagan Talbott leads this comprehensive investigation, engaging 120 infants displaying developmental variances. Through rigorous telehealth sessions and subsequent assessments, the study endeavors to identify early markers of ASD. Families are equipped with support kits and receive compensation, aiding in comprehensive research on developmental distinctions. Against a backdrop of increased ASD prevalence, currently affecting one in 36 children, this research aims to bridge the knowledge gap in early detection and support mechanisms for infants showing developmental differences.
Over five years, led by Dr. Meagan Talbott, a faculty member at UC Davis’s MIND Institute within the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, the study aims to assess whether telehealth can effectively identify the likelihood of an ASD diagnosis in infants.
In a press release, Dr. Talbott highlighted the current challenge in addressing parental concerns about developmental differences in children, stating, “At present, we lack effective tools to discern whether these differences might relate to autism, developmental delays, or if they might resolve naturally. Consequently, many families are advised to ‘wait and observe.'”
The study plans to recruit 120 infants aged between 6 to 12 months displaying signs of developmental delays or differences. Over a year, each family will engage in four-hour-long telehealth sessions. Subsequent assessments will be conducted when the child reaches 3 years of age.
These sessions will involve various interactive activities such as playing with toys, engaging in peek-a-boo, blowing bubbles, and reading books. Researchers will also interview parents and caregivers about the child’s developmental progress. The final session will focus on age-appropriate activities and questions about essential life skills such as dressing and independent eating.
Dr. Talbott expressed hope that closely monitoring infants displaying early concerns will aid in identifying when behavioral differences suggest certain developmental outcomes. This, in turn, will contribute to developing better support systems for families before a formal diagnosis is received.
Participating families will receive kits containing toys and materials, with the option to request iPads if necessary. The research team will provide written summaries after each telehealth session. Families will receive compensation of $50 for each infant visit and $100 for the final toddler visit. Regular feedback will be solicited from families to determine preferred forms of support during telehealth sessions and assess caregiver satisfaction with the study.
To address potential uncertainties among parents and caregivers regarding their child’s developmental milestones, the study will include families with specific concerns as well as those unsure about their child’s development. Participants will undergo a developmental screening, and this information can be shared with the child’s healthcare provider.
Dr. Talbott emphasized the limited knowledge surrounding the outcomes of infants displaying early behavioral differences. Telehealth presents an opportunity to reach more families with early concerns, aiding in understanding when these developmental differences are likely to resolve and when they might indicate ASD.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate a rising prevalence of ASD among children, with approximately one in 36 affected in 2020, compared to one in 44 in 2018.
In the realm of ASD diagnosis, there’s a growing trend in leveraging virtual care and mobile health (mHealth) strategies. Notably, the Marcus Autism Center, a subsidiary of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, introduced a biomarker-based, eye-tracking diagnostic tool in September. This portable tablet monitors children’s social interaction responses through “looking behavior” while watching videos, aiding clinicians in providing a diagnosis and evaluating the child’s capabilities based on collected data.