Early interventions for children with autism

Psychologists at Swansea University have published results from the largest comparative study of different early teaching interventions for children with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) carried out in the UK to date.

The findings of the year-long study, funded by the Surrey-based South East Regional Special Educational Needs Partnership, suggest that children with ASC benefit greatly from Applied Behaviour Analytic approaches, but less so from other commonly offered types of early intervention programmes.

The Swansea team, which comprised Lisa Osborne, Emma Waddington, and Mark Corness, and was led by Professor Phil Reed, of the University’s Learning and Behaviour Group, compared the effects of the different early intervention programmes, as they occurred in the community, rather than examining specially tailored clinic-based interventions.

It looked at the effectiveness of these early interventions on children’s intellectual, educational, and adaptive behavioural functioning, as well as at the effects of the intervention on family stress levels.

Children supported by Applied Behaviour Analytic (ABA) programmes made greater intellectual and educational gains than children in other intervention programmes, while Special Nursery programmes also produced gains, compared to other less time-intensive programmes.

While there was no clear relationship between the amount of intervention time received and the children’s improvements, an ABA programme of around 20 hours per week appeared to be most effective.

However, the research failed to find any evidence of ‘recovery’ from ASC, as a result of any intervention.

Professor Reed said: “Helping children and young people with ASC to function independently not only enhances their quality of life, but also does much to relieve the enormous psychological strain on the family, and the financial pressures on many external supporting agencies.

“There are too few evidence-based evaluations of the effectiveness of the different types of interventions offered, in terms of promoting a child with ASC’s functioning. Therefore, there is a clear need to evaluate further interventions, in order to give parents and support workers the information necessary to decide on the most appropriate intervention for the child.”

Professor Reed added: “An important current issue for many parents is that they are often only offered a mixture of approaches, rather than being able to opt for their preferred intervention.

“As it is unlikely that they will be in the position of being able to make a choice of intervention, the effectiveness of employing more than one intervention needs to be compared to that of the ABA approach. It will also be important to examine the effects of such interventions on the progress of a child with ASC at school.”

The initial published articles can be found in the 2007 issues of the journals, Exceptional Children, and Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

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