Early Intervention May Help Autistic Toddlers
Study Finds Comprehensive Home-Based Program Improves IQ, Language, Social Ability
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 30, 2009 -- A new, home-based program for
toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
that combines behavioral change techniques in a playful environment boosted the
children's IQ, language ability, and social interaction skills more than a
community-based program, according to a new study.
The home-based program included up to 20 hours a week of therapist
intervention, plus the intervention of parents, who were taught the same
''This intervention is designed to be appropriate for children as young as
12 months of age," says study researcher Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science
officer of Autism Speaks, a science and advocacy organization. She conducted
the research while a professor of psychology and director of the University of
Washington's Autism Center, Seattle.
''We found that after two years the children who received the intervention
had made significant gains in their IQ, their language ability, their adaptive
behavior, and their social interaction," Dawson tells WebMD.
The IQ of children in the new home-based program -- called the Early Start
Denver Model -- rose on average about 18 points after two years, she says. The
IQ of the children in the community-based comparison group increased seven
''When you see an IQ gain that is this large, the child is much more likely
to be able to enter a regular classroom and develop friendships," Dawson
The study is published online in the journal Pediatrics.
Intervention in Young Children
Early intervention for children with autism, a developmental disorder
estimated to affect one in 150 or more U.S. children, has been evaluated for
years. More than 20 years ago, a report of early behavioral intervention found
that nearly half the children given the intervention could be mainstreamed into
regular classrooms and had IQ gains.
But experts still disagree about whether early intervention makes a
long-term difference in autism, which is marked by impairments in communication
and socialization, and repetitive, disruptive behavior.
The new study is believed to be the first scientific study that looked at
intervening in children so young. "Our entire group was under 2 and a half,"
says Sally Rogers, PhD, professor of psychiatry, University of California Davis
MIND Institute, who developed the intervention with Dawson.