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Early Intervention May Help Autistic Toddlers

Study Finds Comprehensive Home-Based Program Improves IQ, Language, Social Ability

Improvements in Language Skills

After two years, the researchers found a 17.6-point boost in IQ in the intervention group, compared to a 7-point increase in the comparison group.

Most of the IQ boost, they found, seems linked with improvements in language -- receptive and expressive. For instance, the intervention group had increased nearly 19 points on receptive language skills -- understanding language -- compared to a 12-point improvement in the community group.

In the early-intervention group, seven children's diagnoses improved -- from autism to PDD NOS; just one child in the community group had a milder diagnosis after two years. (But two children in the early-intervention group and five in the comparison group progressed from PDD NOS to autism.)

The early-intervention group showed steady development in what's known as adaptive behaviors (such as social functioning), but the comparison group showed declines.

The researchers are now continuing studies to see if the results can be duplicated, Dawson says. "In the future, we hope to be working with even younger children."

Second Opinion

The new research results are "impressive,'' says Laura Schreibman, PhD, a distinguished professor in the department of psychology, University of California, San Diego, and a veteran autism researcher, because the study was conducted in a scientific manner, comparing two treatments head to head without the evaluators knowing which treatment the child was getting.

''We have long known that we are likely to achieve greater gains with younger children, but this point now takes on more significance as we are increasingly able to identify and diagnose very young children -- for example toddlers," Schreibman says.

The results, she says, are promising and hopeful. "Hope is something the families of these children often find in short supply," she says.

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