Title: Early intensive behavioral intervention: Outcomes for children with autism and their parents after two years.
Author: Remington, Bob; Hastings, Richard P; Kovshoff, Hanna; degli Espinosa, Francesca; Jahr, Erik; Brown, Tony; Alsford, Paula; Lemaic, Monika; Ward, Nicholas. University of Southampton UK.
Source: American Journal on Mental Retardation. Vol 112(6) Nov 2007, 418-438.

A well designed study from the UK provides some evidence of the effectiveness of intense early behavioral intervention. The researchers compared two groups of pre-school children with autism. The first group consisted of children undergoing, by parental choice, an early intense behavioral intervention program. The second group consisted of children undergoing “treatment as usual”. This mean, these children were not denied treatment, but instead simply experienced the treatment and or resources generally available to parents. Although these two groups were not different from each other when the treatment began, 2 years later the group undergoing intense behavioral intervention showed greater improvements in intelligence, language, daily living skills, and positive social behavior. One thing should be noted though. This was not a traditionally experimental study during which the kids were randomly assigned to either the intense treatment group or the treatment as usual group. Instead, the groups were identified based on what parents “preferred”. This means that there is a remote possibility that part of these findings are due to differences related to parents who chose to be in the intensive program as compared to parents who did not opt for the program. That is, it is possible (but unlikely) that kids in the intense behavioral program did better than the other kids not necessarily because of the effectiveness of the program, but because of some family-parental characteristic that also made the parents more likely to choose the intense behavioral program. This alternative interpretation must always be considered when studies can’t conduct a full random assignment of the families to the groups that will be compared.

UPDATE: I was asked to clarify what was the nature of the intense behavioral program. This was a classic 20-30 hours per week one on one program based on applied behavior analysis.

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