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Autistic Kids Benefit from Early Intervention Regardless of Treatment Model

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Preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) receive the same benefit from high-quality early intervention programs that are generalized or specialized, according to new research from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  The study, from the university's Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) could potentially help educators control the costs of the numerous specialists who treat kids with ASD, without sacrificing the results and benefits that the interventions are known to have.  More from ScienceDaily.com:

"We know that more children are being diagnosed with ASD each year, and that it can cost an estimated $3.2 million to treat each child over a lifetime. Understanding that a child can benefit from a high-quality program, rather than a specialized program, may help reduce those costs by decreasing the need for teachers and other school practitioners to be trained to deliver multiple specialized services," Boyd said. He stressed it remains important to ensure educators are trained to provide high-quality programs that meet the special behavioral, communication and other needs of children with ASD.

Previous research has shown that when children with ASD have access to early intervention via treatment programs, they improve developmentally. Until now, however, debate has persisted over which approach to use, said Boyd. The study appeared in the June issue of Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Two frequently used comprehensive treatment models have a long history: LEAP (Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and their Parents) and TEACCH (now known only by its acronym).

FPG's study examined the relative effects of the LEAP and TEACCH school-based comprehensive treatment models when compared to each other and to special-education programs that do not use a specific model. The multisite study took place only in high-quality classrooms and enrolled 74 teachers and 198 3- to 5-year-olds in public school districts.

The study found that children made gains over the school year regardless of the classroom's use of LEAP, TEACCH or no specific comprehensive treatment model. "Each group of children showed significant positive change in autism severity, communication and fine- motor skills," said Kara Hume, FPG scientist and co-author. "No statistically significant differences were found among models, which challenged our initial expectations -- and likely the field's."

"This study may shift the field's thinking about comprehensive treatment models designed for young children with ASD," said co-author Samuel L. Odom, FPG's director and the study's principal investigator. "Perhaps it's not the unique features of the models that most contribute to child gains but the common features of the models that most influence child growth."

Image: Preschooler and teacher, via Shutterstock

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