A ground-breaking study released today showed promising results for early intervention in toddlers with autism. Early intervention has generally been viewed as something for pre-school aged children as a way to prepare them for primary school. However this study indicates that early intervention for children, some as young as 18 months, is effective for improving IQ, language ability and social interaction; all critical precursor skills for inclusion and life outcomes.
The study was published today in the journal Pediatrics, it examined an intervention method called the Early Start Denver Model. This intervention method combines ABA (applied behavioral analysis) teaching methods with developmental ‘relationship-based’ approaches. The experimental group received 20 hours a week of intervention from specialists as well as five hours a week of parent-delivered therapy.
The five-year study took place at the University of Washington in Seattle, the study included 48 diverse 18-30 month old children with autism. The children who received the interventions improved in all areas. Their IQs went up by an average of 18 points and a nearly 18-point improvement in receptive language. This is compared to the control group, who were referred to community based programs for therapy, where the children’s IQs went up only 4 points and an 10-point improvement in receptive language. Seven of the children in the intervention group improved enough to change their diagnosis from autism to PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.)
Early intervention has been
proven effective time and time again and this study extends that success to a
younger age group. For the children who do show symptoms of autism at a young
age, these interventions should prove effective. Given the recent reports that
1 in 100 children in the United States have autism, more timely and effective
interventions will help these children succeed.
Among the significant aspects of this study is the level of intensity (20 hours plus 5 hours of parent time per week) required to achieve results for students. Many EI programs and for that matter Early Childhood programs have far less than 20 hours of intensity but schools feel that this level is sufficient to provide a FAPE. This study should be one more basis to argue for greater intensity with methods that have a scientific basis.