DOI: 10.1111/camh.12686 ISSN: 1475-357X

Debate: How far can we modify the expression of autism by modifying the environment?

Laurent Mottron, David Gagnon
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology and Child Health

Following Green (Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 2023, 28, 438) the emergence of a manifest autistic phenotype, during preschool years, represents a discontinuity from preclinical or subclinical states. We propose that this discontinuity suggests that autistic children experience superior interest for, and processing of non‐social information, whereas children without autism favor social information processing. This is produced by perceptual over‐functioning, still allowing self‐taught non‐social language learning in a substantial fraction of prototypical autistic children. A new set of rigorous intervention studies using Pediatric Autism Communication Therapy (PACT), based on the synchrony principle, brought autistic children below the ADOS diagnostic threshold (Whitehouse et al., JAMA Pediatrics, 2021, 175, e213298). We now know that adaptation of the child's social environment can produce changes in the manifestations of autism in the pre‐school period and later. However, the limitation of these changes, combine with evidence of non‐social learning of language suggests that clinicians should combine lateral tutorship (the parallel, unsynchronous exposure of information) with the synchrony (early dyadic communication and engagement) principle to create a new generation of strength‐based interventions.

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