Early Education Improves Learning, Social Skills of Autistic Children
> 4/27/2007 2:05:33 PM

A two-year, United Kingdom-based study on early learning intervention for autistic children demonstrates that specialized classes and private tutoring, beginning as early as age 3, may significantly improve their chances of success in school and beyond.

Researchers began with a group of 44 pre-school children, each of whom had been previously diagnosed as autistic. 23 of these children received early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) in the home while the remaining 21 went through standard public school programs especially designed to accommodate autistic children. EIBI is a relatively new method based on the practice of applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a time-tested approach defined by the careful monitoring and recording of a patientís behavioral tendencies while in familiar settings. Researchers then analyze their collected statistics in order to assess problem behaviors and the circumstances preceding them with the ultimate goal of designing pre-emptive steps to help patients regulate their conduct by example. Experts record both the excessive incidence of negative habits (tantrums, hyperactivity, various physical tics) and the absence or scarcity of developmental necessities (toilet training, obeying directions, age-appropriate communication skills). Behavioral interventions then attempt to remedy the specific deficiencies in order, noting each child's progress and attempting to measure the success of these efforts as applied to real-world experience.   

Children in the EIBI group received approximately 25 hours of treatment per week from specialized tutors over the two-year period, while the others received some form of speech and language therapy from their respective schools. Each group completed standard tests throughout the study in order to better measure their respective progress. And the project's results were very encouraging: at least one in four children in the EIBI group registered significant increases in their IQ scores, levels of demonstrable linguistic efficiency, and standard measures of basic motor skills. They were better able to interact with their environments and communicate their needs and emotions to parents and researchers. More importantly, none showed any signs of regression in the same areas.

These treatments use many of the same techniques common to programs designed for children with disciplinary problems: positive reinforcement, hands-on learning and attempts to teach parents how better to address their autistic children, hopefully granting them the ability to act in the place of paid therapists. Still, the vast majority of autistic children will require some form of professional assistance throughout the maturation process. Some parents understandably voice concern about the cumulative costs of such private programs, but researchers imply that the price of leaving autism untreated or not providing specific focus on remedying the disruptive behaviors associated with the condition will inevitably be even greater. Those with kids in the program report almost universal success, which is encouraging news for parents whose autistic children have not received enough help. Offering these interventions to more affected kids will ultimately offset some of the costs entailed by raising children with autism. Parents are often required to sacrifice their working lives in order to better watch over their kids, and the increased availability of programs like those tested in this study could help make the task more manageable. For those taking on the tremendous challenges created by the autistic condition, any progress is good news, but until it can be applied directly to their own lives, it only provides hope for better treatment in the future.

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