The study examined an intervention called the Early Start Denver Model, which combines applied behavioural analysis (ABA) teaching methods with developmental 'relationship-based' approaches. While the youngest children in the study were 18 months old, the intervention is designed to be appropriate for children with autism as young as twelve months of age.
The five-year study took place at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. It involved therapy for 48 diverse, 18- to 30-month-old children with autism and no other health problems. Day-to-day oversight was provided.
The children were separated into two groups, one that received 20 hours a week of the intervention – two two-hour sessions five days a week – from specialists. They also received five hours a week of parent-delivered therapy. Children in the second group were referred to community-based programmes for therapy. Both groups' progress was monitored by researchers. At the beginning of the study there was no substantial difference in functioning between the two groups.
At the conclusion of the study, the IQs of the children in the intervention group had improved by an average of approximately 18 points, compared to a little more than four points in the comparison group. The intervention group also had a nearly 18-point improvement in receptive language (listening and understanding) compared to approximately ten points in the comparison group. Seven of the children in the intervention group had enough improvement in overall skills to warrant a change in diagnosis from autism to the milder condition known as 'pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified,' or PDD-NOS. Only one child in the community-based intervention group had an improved diagnosis.
"We believe that the ESDM group made much more progress because it involved carefully structured teaching and a relationship-based approach to learning with many, many learning opportunities embedded in the play," said Sally Rogers, the study’s co-author. "The study strongly affirms the positive outcomes of early intervention and the need for the earliest possible start," said Geraldine Dawson, the study’s lead author.
MEDICA.de; Source: Autism Speaks