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Benefits of Early Intervention for Autistic Children

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children with autism spectrum disorder usually face diverse developmental problems including problems with walking, as well as language and speech problems. For this reason, medical experts recommend enrolling such children in behavior intervention programs as early as possible. Below is some more information about how early intervention helps children with autism.

An Overview of Early Intervention

The term early intervention refers to deliberate actions that parents and behavioral experts undertake to change the characteristics of patients suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autistic boy arm wrestling with therapistThese interventions are largely therapeutic in nature and aim to help children with ASD overcome developmental challenges. Fortunately, researchers have come up with evidence-based and scientific behavior intervention methods. In addition, most states in the US have early intervention programs modeled along guidelines provided in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). These programs allow parents whose children (three years or younger) exhibit developmental delays to access early intervention services.

The Benefits of Early Intervention

1. Improve IQ

A study carried out over a five-year period at the University of Washington in Seattle found that early intervention programs improve the IQ of children with ASD by approximately 18 points. This is good news to parents because it means children with ASD can enroll and succeed in school, pursue careers of their choice, and lead productive lives without depending on others for help. Sally Rogers, one of the researchers involved in this study and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, reckons early intervention works because the brains of young children are more malleable than adult brains. As such, they respond better to behavior and communication therapies and this usually enables them to lead better lives compared to autistic children who miss similar interventions during their formative years.

2. Easier transition to preschool

Early intervention efforts make a transition to preschool relatively easier for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, according to the New Jersey Early Intervention System (NJEIS) program. Remember, children who lag behind their peers in learning are likely to face difficulties such as finding jobs later in life. It is worth noting that the technical definition of ASD also includes evaluation that shows a child’s development falls between 1.5 and 2.0 standard deviations below the mean in categories that include:

• Physical growth
• Adaptive functioning
• Social and emotional skills
• Communication
• Cognitive functioning

However, the definition of key developmental areas and their respective thresholds vary from state to state.

3. Better dietary outcomes

According to a study carried out by researchers at the Center for Disabilities and Development based at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, foods that contain gluten or casein can cause serious gastrointestinal and neurological problems in people with ASD. As such, some medical experts recommend gluten and casein-free diet to combat ASD symptoms. However, the researchers involved in this study recommend consulting a doctor to perform food allergy tests before embarking on elimination of gluten and casein from a child’s diet. This study also found that vitamin based supplements such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D and magnesium can help alleviate nutritional deficiencies associated with ASD symptoms. The CDC also recommends a similar approach.

4. Better health and development outcomes for parents and children

A major benefit of early intervention is better overall outcomes for children with ASD, as well as their parents. A study published in the Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice found that parent-implemented early intervention usually leads to improved communication behavior, better parent-child interaction, lower likelihood of maternal depression, and better maternal knowledge of autism. Besides assisting their children overcome ASD developmental problems, parents who take charge of their children’s early intervention programs also end up saving money since they do not necessarily have to hire professionals.

5. Better economic outcomes

Early intervention reduces the financial burden of caring for individuals with autism. The results of a study commissioned and funded by Autism Speaks found that the average lifetime cost accrued by an individual with autism related intellectual disabilities is $2.4 million. On the other hand, an autistic person with non-intellectual disabilities will accrue lifetime costs of about $1.4 million. The authors of this study reckon that these costs translate to a healthcare financial burden estimated at $236 billion annually. With this in mind, early intervention enables people with autism to lead independent lives and require minimal financial support, which translates to substantial savings that the concerned parties, including parents and government agencies, can invest elsewhere.

Conclusion

Raising children with ASD can be challenging because such children tend to have developmental and learning problems. However, early intervention initiatives can help such children develop and go on to lead independent adult lives, according to the Indiana University Bloomington’s Indian Resource Center for Autism. Some of the key benefits of early intervention include better economic outcomes, IQ improvement, easier preschool transition, better dietary outcomes, as well as better health and development outcomes for both parents and autistic children.

Call Spectrum Behavioral Services. Inc. at (561) 491-2335 to learn how we can help your autistic child and your family.