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Early Steps Study
Funded by Autism Speaks and the National Institutes of Health

UW Autism Center

What is the purpose of this study?

Dr. Annette Estes and researchers at the University of Washington want to learn more about outcomes for very young children who are showing early signs of autism. The information gained in this study may improve methods of intervention for infants who may be at risk for developing autism and lead to better outcome for these young children and their families.

In conjunction with researchers at the University of California - Davis and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, researchers at the University of Washington will assess infants participating in this study. Families who qualify for the study will be seen for up to four sets of evaluations over the course of two and a half years. We will monitor all children over the course of the study and be able to give references for resources in the community. All qualifying families will be randomized into two groups. We randomize families because sometimes when there is a new intervention we want to know if it is better, worse or as good as treatment available in the community. Therefore some families will receive a UW-provided intervention, and some will be able to choose any intervention available in the greater Seattle community.

Families in the UW-provided intervention will begin with a 12-week parent training, consisting of one main caregiver and the child attending weekly sessions at the University of Washington. If families still qualify for the study after the 12-week parent training, families in the UW-provided treatment will be given 20 hours a week of in-home intervention for two years by UW-trained therapists.

Families in the Assessment and Monitoring group will be given references to services in the greater Seattle area. They will be able to choose which therapy the wish from the services that are available to them.

All families will be seen for the four evaluations during the duration of the study (two and a half years). We will be able to provide feedback as to each child's progress and be able to go over each child's strengths and weaknesses with parents.

How can I participate? What are the criteria?

Your child can participate if:

  • He or she is 12-24 months old and has symptoms of autism (a diagnosis is not required).
  • Your family lives within 30 minutes driving of the University of Washington.
  • He or she has English as one primary language, has normal hearing and vision, and is not currently enrolled in intensive behavioral treatment.

What is the time commitment for participation in the study?

The initial phone call will take about 45 minutes to determine if the study is a good match for your family. If your family passed the phone screening there will be two assessment visits and a feedback visit to the UW Autism Center. If your family qualifies for the study we will also see your child at 3 additional time points. Visits to the Autism Center will typically take one and a half to two hours. Roughly 13 weeks after your first set of visits, you will be asked to come into the university for another evaluation. Evaluations will also occur one and two years later. Your family will be asked to fill out a packet of questionnaires which will take about two hours to complete at each evaluation time point (four total).

Some families will also receive training in a parent-delivered intervention requiring weekly visits to the UW Autism Center for 12 weeks. These visits are approximately one and a half hours in length and occur once a week for the 12 weeks. Parents are required to attend these visits with their children. Some families will also have the possibility of receiving intensive in home intervention for two years following their 12-week training. The in home intervention is provided by UW trained therapists and is approximately 20 hours a week. This too requires that a caregiver be in the home with the child during 20 therapy hours (daytime M-F) each week and that parents commit to using these strategies learned in sessions throughout the week. This intervention requires a high level of parent participation.

What will my family [my child or I] get out of the study?

Families who participate will benefit by receiving feedback from a clinical psychologist as to their child's current developmental level, strengths, and challenges as well as monitoring of their development for two years. We will provide you with recommendations for services (speech therapy, etc) that best fit your child according to the evaluations we complete. In addition, some of the infants will receive free intervention.

What are the risks to participating in this study and what safeguards are in place to minimize any risks?

All efforts are made to minimize any potential risks. There are no known psychological or physical risks associated with any of the procedures. Additionally, all researchers at the University of Washington Autism Center are very experienced in working with children with autism and their families.

For those families in the UW treatment group, the parent training component of treatment may be initially uncomfortable. Your interactions with your child will be observed and we will make specific suggestions to change your interactions with your infant. The goal of the intervention, however, is to improve social and communication skills between you and your child and should increase the comfort within this relationship. It might also be initially uncomfortable to have intervention therapists come to your home.

Who are the investigators involved in this project?

University of Washington site:
Annette Estes, PhD, Principal Investigator
Jessica Greenson, PhD, Project Director
Tanya St. John, PhD, Senior Postdoctoral Fellow
Jamie Winter, PhD, Intervention Team Director
Laurelin Duckett, MEd, Team Leader
Jim Mancini, MS, CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist
Lauren Elder, MA, Graduate Research Assistant
Emilie Dupont, BA, Research Study Coordinator
Lena Tsui, MA, Research Study Coordinator

Katy Anderson, BS
Lindsey Bailey, BA
Philip Jones, BA
Beth Kelly, BA
Mindy Lindstrom, BA
Cassandra Szalay, BS
Cameron Sinquimani, BA
Andrea Rastall, BS
Sarah Schiffman, BA
Brandon Semba, BA
Gretchen Soelling, BA

UC Davis MIND site:
Sally Rogers, PhD, Principal Investigator
Sally Ozonoff, PhD, Principal Investigator

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor site:
Cathy Lord, PhD, Principal Investigator

Whom should I contact to get involved?

We are no longer recruiting for this study. To learn more about participating in any of our other studies, please contact our project scheduler at 1.877.408.UWAC.