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Early Intervention

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Research shows that early diagnosis and interventions are more likely to have major positive effects on symptoms and later skills.1,2,3,4,5 Early interventions occur at or before preschool age. In this period, a young child's brain is still forming.6 For this reason, early interventions give children the best start possible and the best chance of developing to their full potential. The sooner a child gets help, the greater the chance for learning and progress.

With early intervention, between 3% and 25% of children with autism make so much progress that they are no longer on the autism spectrum when they are older. Many of the children who later go off the spectrum have some things in common:7

  • Diagnosis and treatment at younger ages
  • A higher intelligence quotient (IQ, a measure of thinking ability) than the average child with autism
  • Better language and motor skills

Goals of Early Intervention:

Early intervention programs often include:

  • Family training
  • Speech therapy
  • Hearing impairment services
  • Physical therapy
  • Nutrition services

Early intervention programs help children gain the basic skills that they usually learn in the first 2 years of life, such as:

  • Physical skills
  • Thinking skills
  • Communication skills
  • Social skills
  • Emotional skills

State-Run Programs:

Each state has its own early intervention program for children from birth to age 2 years who are diagnosed with developmental delays or disabilities, including ASD. These programs are specified by Part C of Public Law 108-77: Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (2004), sometimes called "IDEA."8 Some states also provide services for children who are at risk for developmental delays and disabilities.

To learn more about IDEA and other early intervention services, visit one of the following:

  1. National Research Council, Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism. Educating Children With Autism. Lord, C., McGee, J. P., eds. Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2001. As cited in: Myers, S. M., & Johnson, C. P. . [top]
  2. Olley, J. G. Curriculum and classroom structure. In: Volkmar, F. R., Paul, R., Klin, A., Cohen, D., eds. Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders. 3rd ed. Vol II. Hoboken, NJ: John 65 Wiley & Sons; 2005:863- 881. As cited in: Myers, S. M., & Johnson, C. P. (see Reference 39). [top]
  3. Helt, M., Kelley, E., Kinsbourne, M., Pandey, J., Boorstein, H., Herbert, M., et al. (2008). Can children with autism recover? If so, how? Neuropsychology Review, 18(4), 339-366. [top]
  4. Rogers, S. J., & Lewis, H. (1989). An effective day treatment model for young children with pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 28(2), 207-214. [top]
  5. Reichow, B., & Wolery, M. (2009). Comprehensive synthesis of early intensive behavioral interventions for young children with autism based on the UCLA young autism project model. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39(1), 23-41. [top]
  6. Dawson, G., Rogers, S., Munson, J., Smith, M., Winter, J., Greenson, J., et al. (2010). Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model. Pediatrics, 125(1), e17-23. [top]
  7. Helt, M., Kelley, E., Kinsbourne, M., Pandey, J., Boorstein, H., Herbert, M., et al..(2008). Can children with autism recover? If so, how? Neuropsychology Review, 18(4), 339-366. [top]
  8. Building the Legacy: IDEA 2004. (2010). Retrieved January 28, 2011, from [top]

Last Reviewed: 12/18/2013
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