November 30, 2009

Early Autism Programs Improve Child IQ

Early intervention programs for children with autism have been found to be effective in improving IQ, language skills and social skills, according to a new study.

The program is being used in children with autism as young as 18 months old.

"This is the first controlled study of an intensive early intervention that is appropriate for children with autism who are less than 2½ years of age. Given that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all 18- and 24-month-old children be screened for autism, it is crucial that we can offer parents effective therapies for children in this age range," said Dr Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer of Autism Speaks and the study's lead author.

"By starting as soon as the toddler is diagnosed, we hope to maximize the positive impact of the intervention."

The study has been published in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers analyzed the Early Start Denver Model, which combines applied behavioral analysis (ABA) teaching methods with developmental 'relationship-based' approaches.

The five-year study took place at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. Overall, just 48 8- to 30-month-old children with autism and no other health problems were involved in the research.

Children were placed into two groups. One group got 20 hours a week of intervention, while the other group received two two-hour sessions five days a week.

Researchers found that children in the intervention group had improved IQs by an average of 18 points. The intervention group also had a nearly 18-point improvement in receptive language (listening and understanding) compared to approximately 10 points in the comparison group.

"We believe that the ESDM group made much more progress because it involved carefully structured teaching and a relationship-based approach to learning with many, many learning opportunities embedded in the play," said Sally Rogers, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, a study co-author and a researcher at the UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, Calif.

"Parental involvement and use of these strategies at home during routine and daily activities are likely important ingredients of the success of the outcomes and their child's progress. The study strongly affirms the positive outcomes of early intervention and the need for the earliest possible start," Dawson said.


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