A recent study published in the July 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry demonstrates that early intervention, beginning between 18 and 30 months of age improves outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 6.
Early intensive behavioral intervention is recognized an as efficacious approach for improving outcomes for young children with ASD. However, most studies of comprehensive, intensive intervention only report immediate outcomes at the end of intervention and the degree to which these outcomes are sustained over time is largely unknown.
Following children who participated in a randomized, controlled trial of the Early Start Denver Model, a group of researchers led by Dr. Annette Estes of the University of Washington Autism Center, evaluated long-term outcomes for 39 children at age 6 years. Participating children were randomized into community-intervention-as-usual or ESDM intervention for 2 years at an average of 15 hours per week. Outcomes were evaluated in terms of IQ, adaptive behavior, autism symptoms, challenging behavior, and diagnosis based on clinical examinations by experts who did not know previous intervention histories of the children and by parent reports of functioning at home and in the community.
Researchers found that the ESDM group, on average, maintained gains made in early intervention during the 2-year follow-up period in overall intellectual ability, adaptive behavior, symptom severity, and challenging behavior. This is important because children did not lose skills after the intervention trial ended and treatment hours were reduced. No group differences in core autism symptoms were found immediately post-treatment; however, two years later, the ESDM group demonstrated improved core autism symptoms and adaptive behavior as compared with the community-intervention-as-usual (COM) group. The two groups were not significantly different in terms of intellectual functioning at age 6. The two groups received equivalent intervention hours during the original study, but the ESDM group received fewer hours during the follow-up period.