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Early, Intense Therapy Benefits Children with Autism

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

Early, Intense Therapy Benefits Children with Autism

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Early, Intense Therapy Benefits Children with Autism. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 22, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.