Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is at least 50% genetic, either from inherited or from newly arising genes. But researchers have become very interested in the way factors in the baby’s environment, either in utero or in the immediate post-birth period, might switch ASD genes on or off.
This page is for parents who are either expecting, or have given birth to, a baby who is known to be at risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). For example, your new baby is at 1:5 risk if you have an older child who is already diagnosed with ASD (which means, importantly, that 4 out of 5 new siblings won't develop ASD), and also if you or the baby’s other parent have ASD.
We know that the first 100 days after birth is a time of exquisite neuroplasticity, when neural connections are laid down in your baby’s brain which last a lifetime. We also know from neuro-imaging studies that by the time a baby who later develops ASD is six months old, differences in neural connections are already visible.
Is it possible to get in very early, in the first days, weeks, and months of life, to shore up the resilience of your baby’s brain, in order to help prevent ASD? No-one knows the answer to this question, though researchers have become very interested to explore what might help. There is still much to learn about the complex interactions between genetic predisposition and the environmental factors which may give rise to ASD. It will take many years of research to find out if Neuroprotective Developmental Care, or any other infant-care program, really does protect against or minimise the symptoms of ASD.
But Possums Education has also spent many years developing evidence-based strategies for protection of your baby’s developing brain and gut, more generally. Because parents whose baby is known to be at risk of ASD will continue to receive a great deal of conflicting advice about infant-care, all of which claims to be neuroprotective, we've been interested to think through how to you might apply Neuroprotective Developmental Care (NDC or the Possums programs) in this situation. The research behind the recent interest in pre-emptive intervention for ASD is detailed in a new paper by Dr Pamela Douglas, Pre-emptive intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder: theoretical foundations and clinical translation, under review. We will make this article available as soon as possible.
Just to emphasise: we are not claiming that there is any evidence to prove that our programs will work to prevent or minimise expression of the ASD genes. We just think that there is good evidence to suggest, when parents are receiving so much confusing advice about how to best care for their baby, that our particular programs offer a pathway through the first six months of life that is as neuroprotective as any. We can’t think of another set of programs for the care of babies in very early life, either here in Australia or overseas, which build on more rigorous, comprehensive, evidence-based foundations for optimizing a baby's neuro-resilience.
Our guide to NDC for parents with babies at risk of ASD integrates specific elements of Neuroprotective Developmental Care, which are applied flexibly, according to your unique baby’s needs.
- When baby comes home
These antenatal videos and resources share information you need to help make life with your baby as enjoyable and as in sync as possible, from the first moments after birth into the following days, weeks, and months.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
The ACT domain offers values-based psychological strategies for supporting your mental health resilience and quality of life, even when facing highly stressful life challenges – such as an older child with ASD, or a new baby!
- Sensory nourishment
The Sensory domain focuses on the importance of healthy sensory-motor stimulation in very early life. That is, we help you enrich your baby’s environment, both socially and in other sensory-motor ways, and explain why this is important. The Sensory domain includes making space for rich and enjoyable to-and-fro interaction with your baby, to support the development of your baby’s social and sensory-motor skills. (As our logo says, we want to help you ‘grow joy in early life’!)
- The Possums Sleep Program
The Sleep domain helps you optimise the healthy regulation of your baby’s circadian clock and sleep pressure, shares information about normal and abnormal sleep for babies, and also offers strategies to protect against or repair excessive night waking.
- The Possums approach to cry-fuss and gut problems
The Cry-fuss Problems domain aims to keep your little one as downregulated as is sensibly possible, drawing on multiple strategies. This domain also offers evidence-based information about various gut health challenges your baby may face.
- The Possums approach to breastfeeding and infant feeding
The Gestalt Breastfeeding and Paced Bottle-feeding domain addresses breastfeeding and feeding difficulties which can have a significant impact on the quality of your life, your baby’s stress response settings, and interactions with your baby in those first 100 days.
A booklet suggesting how to sequence the various elements of our programs if your baby is at risk of ASD is available once you join PIPPS. When you are inside the PIPPS portal, click on the tile at the bottom left entitled ‘Is your baby at neurodevelopmental risk?’ This will take you to 'Neuroprotective Developmental Care (or the Possums programs) for Parents of Babies at Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder'.
We wish we could make everything we do available completely free, but we are an independent charity based in the community, who receives no external funding. We keep our fees as low as we possibly can, and all revenue is returned into our education and research projects.