Children with autism benefit the most from types of early intervention. Once symptoms of autism begin to show, oftentimes as early as between the ages of 12 to 18 months, it is up to parents, care providers, teachers, and doctors to intervene. There are various ASD interventions to choose from and a treatment team of professionals will decide upon the right one(s) based on the child’s symptoms and behaviors.
Some very early signs of autism include:
- Problems with eye contact
- No response to his or her name
- Problems following another person’s gaze or pointed finger to an object (or “joint attention”)
- Poor skills in pretend play and imitation
- Problems with nonverbal communication
A parent or caregiver that notices these signs in a young child should bring them in to see a doctor right away.
Thankfully times have changed over the past decades and there is more wide-spread knowledge on autism along with a variety of treatment opportunities available to all. Without these early intervention opportunities, many children with autism would not be able to live their best life possible as compared to their typical peers.
The Benefits of Early Autism Intervention
The timeframe when many children are typically diagnosed with autism (12 to 18 months) is when major developmental milestones occur. Being able to intervene once signs are noticed has invaluable benefits.
The following excerpt comes from the American Academy of Neurology’s Brain & Life Magazine and reinforces just how important early autism intervention is:
“The reason for the emphasis on early intervention is simple: neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to form new connections. While this ability remains throughout life, “there are sensitive periods in brain development where the brain is most ready and has the greatest capacity to alter the way it designs itself based on the kinds of experiences the child is exposed to,” says Rebecca Landa, Ph.D., director of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Baltimore, MD.
“We know that experience can change brain function and brain development,” explains Dr. Lord. “So the idea is that a child with autism has underlying deficits that affect the information they take in from the world; and if we can modify that, we may be able to minimize the effects of ASD.”
One specific type of early intervention that is used with children with autism and that is highly beneficial is called community-based intervention.
Community-Based Intervention: Is it Effective?
Intensive behavioral interventions (IBI) are recommended for children who have been diagnosed with autism. These interventions are based on applied behavior analysis (ABA) and are led by certified and licensed professionals. One type of IBI that often occurs is community-based.
Community-based interventions happen when a specialist serves a child with autism in an outpatient mental health setting. These also can occur out in the community to help generalize skills with the parents or caregivers. A wide-array of skills can be worked on such as speech, toileting, feeding, social/emotional, behavioral, or occupational.
According to the CDC, two intervention models that are used in small children with autism are:
This is a type of ABA for very young children with ASD, usually younger than 5 and often younger than 3. EIBI uses a highly structured teaching approach to build positive behaviors (such as social communication) and reduce unwanted behaviors (such as tantrums, aggression, and self-injury). EIBI takes place in a one-on-one adult-to-child environment under the supervision of a trained professional.
This is a type of ABA for children with ASD between the ages of 12-48 months. Through ESDM, parents and therapists use play and joint activities to help children advance their social, language, and cognitive skills.
When a child is enrolled in a program such as these, they attend sessions very regularly and at a high rate. This may look like attending OT and speech services 3-4x a week while also receiving special education services through a preschool program.
In the same Brain and Life Magazine article as referenced above, the following was discussed:
“It [early intervention] may even erase the signs of autism altogether. A 2007 study evaluated children who were diagnosed around age 2 and received any of a variety of early interventions, including speech, behavioral, occupational, and special education. By age 4, just slightly more than half the children met the diagnostic criteria for autism and just seven out of 10 remained on the autism spectrum. However, notes Dr. Lord, it is not typical of what has been seen in other studies. In one study her team conducted, one out of 80 children with autism at age 2 had moved higher on the ASD spectrum by age 9, and about 20 percent of those had moved out of the spectrum.”
While research on this topic is relatively new, there is high interest in autism interventions as autism diagnosis rates increase. In the near future, there should be much more specific data on the effectiveness of community-based early interventions.
To find out if a child you know is eligible to participate in EIBI services, click HERE and search by state.
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