How can early intervention help my toddler's autism?

Q: How can early intervention help a toddler with autism?

A: There is no known cure for autism, but intensive early therapy helps a child learn a wide range of skills -- from making eye contact to hugging to having a conversation. And the sooner a child begins, the better. Experts suggest that children receive 25 hours of therapy per week as soon as autism is suspected and once a firm diagnosis is made, that number should increase to between 25 and 40 hours depending on the severity of the condition. Most intervention programs include a combination of direct therapies from teachers and professionals, as well as working with your child at home on a daily basis, and in some cases attending a regular preschool.

With the help of early intervention, some autistic children are able to make amazing progress and significantly lessen the severity of their symptoms. Research shows that today almost 80 percent of kids with autism now have some speech by age 9, whereas only 50 percent of these kids were talking 20 years ago. And though past research suggests that most autistic children have below-average cognitive abilities, a recent study found that early treatment raised children's IQ scores by about 20 points, to almost normal levels. Those who started therapy as toddlers were also more likely to attend regular kindergarten. --Jan Sheehan

Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission from the July 2004 issue of Parents magazine. Updated 2009

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