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Evaluation of early intervention in autism


The Tizard Centre at the University of Kent recently presented its findings from an important pilot study on early intervention for children with autism.

Funded by the National Autistic Society and The British Academy, and conducted by Dr Julie Beadle-Brown, Professor Glynis Murphy and researcher Hannah Dorey, this pilot study consisted of two parts, each examining different aspects of early intervention programmes for young children with autism.

The first part of this study explored factors affecting parental choice of early intervention, with a particular focus on parenting style. The second part was an evaluation of treatment outcomes for children participating in the Son-Rise and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) intervention programmes.

After working with a total of twenty-one families, the University of Kent team discovered that the main reason parents chose a particular intervention style was because they agreed with the treatment provider’s philosophy. It was originally thought that ABA parents might have a more directive style of parenting while Son-Rise parents would be generally less directive, but no such pattern was found.

Anecdotal recommendations were also the most common way that parents first came to hear of interventions for autism. Only one parent (in the ABA group) stated that published scientific literature had contributed to their decision, although this is understandable for the Son-Rise parents as there have not been any formal scientific evaluations of the programme to date. It is also difficult for parents to gain access to scientific journals and so many rely on anecdotal recommendation from other parents when deciding upon an intervention for their child.

With regard to evaluation of treatment outcomes and contrary to expectations, no real differences either between or within the ABA, Son-Rise or control groups were found.

General conclusions are that some children may respond better to early intervention than others; that treatment should be tailored to suit each individual child; and a combination of approaches may be required to optimise outcomes. The pilot study also revealed that in any further study evaluating early intervention, it was important to use a longer time frame for evaluation – it was possible that the six to nine month follow-up used here was not sufficient to identify significant differences between the groups. It is also important to take into account adherence to treatment principles in order to assess any one intervention type. A full study looking at these issues is planned for the next two to three years.

Gary Hughes | alfa
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