New research finds early intervention, beginning between 18 and 30 months of age, was associated with improved behavior and a reduction of autistic symptoms for kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age six.
Early intensive behavioral intervention is recognized an as efficacious approach for improving outcomes for young children with ASD. But most studies of comprehensive, intensive intervention only report immediate outcomes at the end of intervention and the degree to which these outcomes are sustained over time is largely unknown.
Researchers, led by Dr. Annette Estes of the University of Washington Autism Center, followed children who participated in a randomized, controlled trial of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM).
The investigators evaluated long-term outcomes for 39 children at age six years. Participating children were randomized into community-intervention-as-usual or ESDM intervention for two years at an average of 15 hours per week.
Outcomes were evaluated in terms of IQ, adaptive behavior, autism symptoms, challenging behavior, and diagnosis based on clinical examinations by experts who did not know the child’s history.
Researchers found that the ESDM group, on average, maintained gains made in early intervention during the two year follow-up period in overall intellectual ability, adaptive behavior, symptom severity, and challenging behavior.
Investigators believe this is an important finding because children did not lose skills after the intervention trial ended and treatment hours were reduced.
No group differences in core autism symptoms were found immediately post-treatment. However, two years later, the ESDM group demonstrated improved core autism symptoms and adaptive behavior as compared with the community-intervention-as-usual (COM) group.
The two groups were not significantly different in terms of intellectual functioning at age six. The two groups received equivalent intervention hours during the original study, but the ESDM group received fewer hours during the follow-up period.
The new study is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.