First author Connie Kasari of the University of California, Los Angeles, and colleagues said the study involved 40 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at ages 3 and 4, who received the intensive therapy program or standard intervention. The children were evaluated at ages 8-9, and all of the children in the study had attended preschool for 30 hours each week, Kasari said.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, found children who started the attention-focusing therapy earlier had more advanced linguistic skills at age 8.
Those who learned to point or direct an adult's attention to an object of interest at ages 3 and 4 also developed more advanced language skills at age 8, while children who showed greater flexibility in playing with objects at age 3 or 4 demonstrated better memory and other cognitive skills at age 8.
"Our findings show that therapy focused on such basic skills as pointing, sharing and engaging in play can have considerable long-term effects as children with autism spectrum disorders grow and learn to express themselves with words," Kasari said in a statement.