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Early intervention is a range of services and supports for infants and young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays. These services may include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, speech and language therapy, and occupational therapy. Early intervention supports vital skill development during the first few years of a child’s life when the brain is most rapidly developing. During these first few years of life, over one million new neural connections form each second, allowing for increased adaptability to learning (Harvard University, 2019).

So, how can early intervention help children with autism and other developmental disabilities develop lifelong skills? In this article, we’ll answer that question and more.

Continue reading for a complete guide on early intervention for autism. We’ll delve into early intervention, how it can benefit a child’s development, and the role Bierman Autism Centers plays in this process.

How Early Can You Diagnose Autism in a Child?

Thanks to increased awareness, improved screening tools, and comprehensive diagnostic services offered by Bierman and other providers, a child can reliably receive an autism diagnosis by age 2. Sometimes, it can even be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months of age. The AAP recommends that pediatricians screen children for ASD during pediatric well-visits at 18 and 24 months (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2023). During these well visits, you can expect a pediatrician to use a checklist or questionnaire that will catch early signs of autism and lead to recommendations for further evaluation. Enhanced screenings are leading to signs of autism being caught earlier than they have in the past.

What are the Benefits of Early Intervention for Children with Autism?

Receiving an accurate diagnosis and beginning therapeutic services early in life can make a tremendous difference for children with autism. The first few years of a child’s life are when their brain has the highest plasticity or flexibility, allowing for the most significant ability to learn new skills.

Some of the benefits of an early intervention program include:

  • Improved communication skills—A key diagnostic component of autism is delayed communication skills. An ability to express oneself and communicate with others is vital for many domains of living. The earlier a child begins services, the sooner they can learn to effectively communicate with others via vocal speech or augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) such as sign language, picture icons, or communication devices. Finding a way for a child to communicate their wants and needs is an essential component of an early intervention program.
  • Increased academic readiness—By adding structure and routine and targeting school readiness skills, children are more prepared to succeed in an educational setting after a successful early intervention program.
  • Development of foundational social skills—An emphasis on developing basic social interaction skills sets the foundation for future friendships, navigating peer conflicts, and many other more complex skills.
  • Reduction of interfering behaviors—For children who exhibit behaviors that interfere with learning or are harmful, early intervention focusing on applied behavior analysis is critical for teaching them more adaptive strategies to meet their needs. This includes communication skills to reduce the need to engage in those interfering behaviors, as those behaviors are typically a child’s only way of communicating their wants and needs.
  • Enhanced cognitive development—Some research has found increased IQ scores in children who received early behavioral intervention (Shi et al., 2021).
  • Development of motor skills—Fine and gross motor skill delays can be reduced with early support, allowing children to access their environment more easily.

It is important to note that autism is a lifelong diagnosis. It is not something that can, nor needs to be, cured. The goal of early intervention is to help children overcome challenges that come along with their diagnosis.

What are Some Goals of Early Intervention?

The primary goal of early intervention is to provide the individualized services and support a child needs to be successful in life. Since every child has unique needs and goals, interventions will look different for each child. A child’s goals may be related to physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development.

Early intervention programs also commonly focus on goals to support parents and caregivers. Parenting a child with special needs can be immensely challenging. Providing parents with support and individualized training can empower them to help their child reach their fullest potential while being their greatest advocate.

What is an Example of Early Intervention for Autism?

 ABA therapy is one of the most widely known and utilized early intervention therapies for children with autism. While ABA is effective with people of all ages, starting earlier has been shown to result in better outcomes.

Naturalistic teaching is one of the most beneficial ABA approaches for young learners. In this approach, children learn through play while taking in the world. Naturalistic teaching promotes a child-led learning experience, where children develop critical life skills, from learning to communicate their wants and needs to navigate their environment safely.

Is There Any Evidence Showing the Effectiveness of Early Intervention?

A great deal of literature suggests enhanced outcomes for children who receive early intervention. In one systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2022, researchers noted positive outcomes in cognitive ability, daily living skills, and motor skills (Daniolou et al., 2022). Another meta-analysis reports improved child outcomes in communication, social, and cognitive domains. In particular, this researcher found that combining clinician and parent-implemented interventions resulted in more positive effects (Landa, 2018).

How Can Bierman Autism Centers Help?

Choosing the right early intervention program is a significant decision for families. Since 2006, Bierman has been a beacon of stability and expertise, guiding families through the challenges and triumphs of autism care. Our commitment to client-centered clinical excellence ensures that every child receives the exceptional care they deserve. Our team focuses on combining science with learning, pioneering data-driven change to offer transformative progress to every child. Through Precision Teaching and careful progress tracking and analysis, we can provide unmatched outcomes for families.

We believe in empowering growth and celebrating every achievement and milestone. Our mantra, “Let Kids Be Kids,” emphasizes the joy in learning and ensures children remain engaged and motivated. Our warm, welcoming environment and commitment to embracing each child’s uniqueness ensure that children receive care tailored to their unique personalities and learning styles.

With the power of community and collaboration, we engage with families through monthly parent meetings, caretaker webinars, and sensory-friendly community events, fostering a sense of belonging and partnership. With Bierman’s unwavering commitment to our values and principles, families can be confident they’re choosing a center that always prioritizes their child’s best interests.

Conclusion: What is Early Intervention for Autism?

Early diagnosis and intervention for children with autism can make a world of difference. By addressing communication challenges, enhancing social skill development, promoting cognitive development, and more, early intervention services allow children a jumpstart toward reaching their full potential.

Resources and References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Screening and Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). What is “Early Intervention”? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/parents/states.html

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2023, April 5). Autism Spectrum Disorder. https://www.aap.org/en/patient-care/autism/#:~:text=The%20AAP%20recommends%20that%20all,through%20screening%20and%2For%20surveillance.

Daniolou, S., Pandis, N., & Znoj, H. (2022). The Efficacy of Early Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(17). https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm11175100

Harvard University. (2019). The Science of Early Childhood Development. Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-science-of-ecd/

Landa R. J. (2018). Efficacy of early interventions for infants and young children with, and at risk for, autism spectrum disorders. International review of psychiatry (Abingdon, England), 30(1), 25–39. https://doi.org/10.1080/09540261.2018.1432574

Shi, B., Wu, W., Dai, M., Zeng, J., Luo, J., Cai, L., Wan, B., & Jing, J. (2021). Cognitive, Language, and Behavioral Outcomes in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders Exposed to Early Comprehensive Treatment Models: A Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression. Frontiers in psychiatry, 12, 691148. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.691148

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