What does early intervention do for children with Autism

Early intervention, autism

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a broad range of development disorders characterized by difficulties in socialization and communication and restricted/ repetitive pattern of behavior and interest.

With early intervention, children with autism can practice social interaction, communication, thinking, self-help, and independence. It has also been shown to improve functional outcomes and quality of life (Zwaigenbaum et al, 2015; Warren et al., 2011) Early intervention is especially crucial and effective when children are at a younger age as their brain is still forming (more ‘plastic’) and is, therefore, more changeable. “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. It gives children the best start possible, helping them to reach their full potential. With early intervention, some children with autism make significant progress such that they are no longer on the autism spectrum when they are older!


Some Evidence from Case Studies

Studies have found that 13-year-olds who receive 20 or more hours of therapy during early childhood were likely to be closer in age-equivalent scores than their peers who received little or no treatment. Verbal skills for children who received one form of speech therapy through age 5 improved at a faster rate over the following 7 years than children who received little or no such therapy. Signs of autism may even be erased with early intervention.


A 2007 study followed children who were diagnosed around age 2 and received any variety of early interventions (e.g., speech, behavioural, occupational and special education). 2 years later, just slightly more than half of the children met the diagnostic criteria for autism; 7 out of 10 remained on the autism spectrum. However, these findings cannot be over-generalized as there are still studies that show that 1 out of 80 children with autism at age 2 had move higher on the ASD spectrum by age 9, and about 20% of those had moved out of the autism spectrum. This shows that children can move out of the spectrum, but the percentage/ numbers which reflect effectiveness still needs more rears on helping children gain basic skills (e.g., physical, thinking, communication, social and emotional skills), and early intervention that should comprise of one-on-one behavioural intervention along with home therapy. One study also suggests that about 14% of children with autism who undergo 2 intensive years of a program (Early Start Denver Model) will improve radically.


The table below shows the characteristics of children with autism at a specific age:


Characteristics of Autism

6-12 Months
  • poor eye contact
  • passive in social interactions
  • little facial expression, smiling and/ or emotional control when interacting with others
  • delayed babbling, infrequent vocalisation and decreased object manipulation.
  • abnormal movements, little variety of movement in exploring new objects, port muscle tone and motor coordination
9-14 Months
  • infrequent or delayed response when name is called
  • infrequent monitoring of the direction of other’s gaze
  • infrequent response to others’ pointing gestures
  • infrequent attempts to point out or show objects of interest
  • frequent smiling at others paired with eye contact
  • low variety of speech sounds and gestures during communication attempts
  • delayed language development
  • low variety of actions on toys
  • infrequent vocalisation paired with eye contact
  • repetitive behaviours and interests
  • unusual sensory responses, such as being unable to tolerate the feel of grass on bare feet
  • 20- Months
  • infrequent imitation of others’ actions
  • minimal display of interest in other children
  • infrequent attempts to share with others
  • limited range of facial expression
  • infrequent offering of comfort to others
  • low variety of words produced
  • repetitive behaviours
  • restricted interests
  • unusual sensory responses



Types of Early Intervention

Intervention should begin early, importance not on what approach is adopted, but for intervention to be designed to meet the unique, individual needs of the child


  1. Behavioural Approaches – Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)

– involves structured teaching, often a one-to-one basis in which children are rewarded for achieving certain goals (e.g., learning to look people in the eye or using a word to ask for an item instead of crying). Rewards range from candy to a few minutes of playtime with a treasured toy. Recordkeeping is crucial to see how long until the child can exhibit the desired behaviour with 80% reliability. It also involves discrete trial training – tasks are broken into their smallest parts and taught individually, analysis of verbal behaviour – focuses on language as the core to all further learning, and pivotal response training – focuses on certain key behaviours such as motivation, self-initiation and responsiveness


  1. Developmental Approaches

– behavioural approach focus on isolated skills or behaviours based on child’s current and ideal developmental stage. It has emphasis on social relationships and helping children to learn to function in a ‘normal’ environment. e.g., floortime: parents or other caregivers play with children in a natural way but at the same time, provide models and praise to help children play, interact and communicate in appropriate ways.


Intervention for children with autism varies as autism cases varies from one child to another. For further information about the best intervention program for your child, don’t hesistate to consult professionals.