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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Early intervention proves effective in autism, study says

Autism is a withstanding neuro-developmental disorder signified by repetitive behaviors and impairment in verbal communication and social interaction. Children can be diagnosed as early as two years of age.

“Autism affects 1 out of 91 children, with a ratio of 4 to 1 boys versus girls who are affected,” said Jay Lytton, co-founder of the Autism Awareness Association at UC Davis.

Sally Rogers and Geraldine Dawson recently performed a study that involved an intervention with toddlers as early as 18 months diagnosed with autism. This study, titled the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), was an intervention that looked at improving IQ, language ability and social interaction.

It is the first study of its kind that is appropriate for children with autism who are less than two and a half years old. The study combines Applied Behavioral Analysis, ABA, with play-based routines to get the best intervention results.

“We complemented ABA with developmental approaches,” said Milani Smith, associate director of the University of Washington Autism Center and a co-author of ESDM. “A big part of what we do is ABA but we have added onto it to make it more developmentally appropriate – to look at a curriculum that is based on knowledge of typical development but have paralleled that with a relationship approach,”

The five-year study conducted at the University of Washington involved two separately sorted groups. The first group delivered 20 hours a week of intervention and five hours a week of parent-delivered therapy. The second group underwent a series of community-based therapy.

“The 20 hours a week of intervention was broken down into two two-hour sessions,” Smith said. “The child would be with a therapist and they would work toward objectives that they had every quarter.”

Smith said this procedure allowed a one-on-one interaction between the therapist and toddler.

“The kids played with Play-Doh, read a book to work on language, sang songs to work on social interaction or had snacks to build communication,” she said.

At the end of the study, the children in the intervention group had improved their IQ by 18 points relative to the children in the second group that had only improved by seven.

According to the study, children who received ESDM were more likely to experience a change in diagnosis from autism to pervasive developmental disorder than the comparison group.

“Although clinicians or researchers may prefer one type of model to another,” Lytton said, “receiving any evidence-based intervention is better than not receiving treatment at all which is the case with a lot of kids in our state due to the cuts at the Regional Centers.”

The study states that it is the first in its field to maintain a level of stern rigor involving top-level diagnostic criteria, randomization, comprehensive outcome measures found by examiners, high retention rates and various measures of the effect of a manual intervention.

“The study was essentially a comparison between what we give as an intervention program versus what families could get in the community,” Smith said.

SADAF MOGHIMI can be reached at features@theaggie.org.


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