Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are typified by impaired social-communication skills. Children and adolescents with ASD have difficulty understanding, interacting and relating with others.

New research suggests intensive therapy, especially at early ages, can help children achieve the best outcomes.

The intensive therapy helps children with autism improve social and communication skills, say the leaders of a current study.

“It’s important for children with autism to begin treatment as soon as possible,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Micah Mazurek, assistant professor in the Department of Health Psychology at the University of Missouri. “The more intense or comprehensive the therapy, the better it is in terms of helping children improve social and communication skills.”

Researchers reviewed data from more than 1,000 children and adolescents with ASD. The investigators focused on changes demonstrated for social-communication skills including facial expressions, gestures, language comprehension, sharing enjoyment and appropriate social responses.

Over time, a striking majority (95.4 percent) of children demonstrated improvement for these skills with children who had received behavioral, speech and occupational therapy benefitting the most. The response to therapy was greatest among those with higher nonverbal IQs.

Analysis showed that when age and symptom severity were controlled, children who received more intensive treatment at younger ages experienced greater advancements in social-communication symptoms.

“With regard to social-communicative symptom severity, our study reveals that it is not IQ alone that contributes to improvements over time,” Mazurek said.

“Instead, having a higher IQ may allow children to make greater gains in various types of treatments. Although IQ scores of children with ASD may be strongly influenced by their capacity for attention and ability to comply with tasks, results indicate the need to design and examine alternative treatment approaches for those with intellectual impairments.”

For those children who were nonverbal at age 5, the researchers found that IQ and intensity of speech therapy most significantly predicted the acquisition of speech. The findings indicate that targeted, intensive treatments may be most successful in improving specific skills.

Source: University of Missouri