Early Education Improves Learning, Social Skills of Autistic Children
> 4/27/2007 2:33:46 PM

A two-year, United Kingdom-based study on early learning interventionfor autistic children demonstrates that specialized classes and privatetutoring, beginning as early as age 3, may significantly improve theirchances of success in school and beyond.

Researchers began witha group of 44 pre-school children, each of whom had been previouslydiagnosed as autistic. 23 of these children received early intensive behavioral intervention(EIBI) in the home while the remaining 21 went through standard publicschool 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 andrecording of a patientís behavioral tendencies while in familiarsettings. Researchers then analyze their collected statistics in orderto assess problem behaviors and the circumstances preceding them withthe ultimate goal of designing pre-emptive steps to help patientsregulate their conduct by example. Experts record both the excessiveincidence of negative habits (tantrums, hyperactivity, various physicaltics) and the absence or scarcity of developmental necessities (toilettraining, obeying directions, age-appropriate communication skills).Behavioral interventions then attempt to remedy the specificdeficiencies in order, noting each child's progress and attempting tomeasure the success of these efforts as applied to real-worldexperience.   

Children in the EIBI group received approximately25 hours of treatment per week from specialized tutors over thetwo-year period, while the others received some form of speech andlanguage therapy from their respective schools. Each group completedstandard tests throughout the study in order to better measure theirrespective progress. And the project's results were very encouraging:at least one in four children in the EIBI group registered significantincreases in their IQ scores, levels of demonstrable linguisticefficiency, and standard measures of basic motor skills. They werebetter able to interact with their environments and communicate theirneeds and emotions to parents and researchers. More importantly, noneshowed any signs of regression in the same areas.

Thesetreatments use many of the same techniques common to programs designedfor children with disciplinary problems: positive reinforcement,hands-on learning and attempts to teach parents how better to addresstheir autistic children, hopefully granting them the ability to act inthe place of paid therapists. Still, the vast majority of autisticchildren will require some form of professional assistance throughoutthe maturation process. Some parents understandably voice concern aboutthe cumulative costs of such private programs, but researchers implythat the price of leaving autism untreated or not providing specificfocus on remedying the disruptive behaviors associated with thecondition will inevitably be even greater. Those with kids in theprogram report almost universal success, which is encouraging news forparents whose autistic children have not received enough help. Offeringthese interventions to more affected kids will ultimately offset someof the costs entailed by raising children with autism. Parents areoften required to sacrifice their working lives in order to betterwatch over their kids, and the increased availability of programs likethose tested in this study could help make the task more manageable.For those taking on the tremendous challenges created by the autisticcondition, any progress is good news, but until it can be applieddirectly to their own lives, it only provides hope for better treatmentin the future.

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