Autism – intensive therapy at young age is beneficial

Autism – intensive therapy at young age is beneficial

By Catherine Walker

Adolescents and children with Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often have difficulty in understanding, interacting and relating with others.  Impaired social-communication skills are typical in individuals with ASD.

New research suggests that intensive therapy can help children achieve the best outcomes, especially when it is given at an early age.

The leaders of the current study say that the intensive therapy helps children with autism improve social and communication skills.

Researchers reviewed data from more than a thousand children and adolescents with ASD.  They focused on changes demonstrated for social-communication skills.  These changes included facial expressions, gestures, sharing enjoyment, language comprehension and appropriate social responses.

‘It is important for children with autism to begin treatment as soon as possible.  The more intense or comprehensive the therapy, the better it is in terms of helping children improve social and communication skills,’ said clinical psychologist Dr. Micah Mazurek, assistant professor in the Department of Health Psychology at the University of Missouri.

Over time 95.4% of children demonstrated improvement for these skills with children who have received behavioural, speech and occupational therapy benefitting the most.  The best response to therapy was experienced by those with higher nonverbal IQs.

Analysis revealed that when age and symptom severity were controlled, the children who received more intensive treatment at a younger age, experienced far greater advancement in social-communication skills.

‘With regard to social-communicative symptom severity, our study reveals that it is not IQ alone that contributes to improvements over time,’ said Mazurek.

‘Instead, having a higher IQ may allow children to make greater gains in various types of treatments.  Although IQ scores of children with ASD may be strongly influenced by their capacity for attention and ability to comply with tasks, results indicate the need to design and examine alternative treatment approaches for those with intellectual impairments,’ Mazurek added.

For children who were nonverbal at the age of 5, the researchers found that IQ and intensity of speech therapy most significantly predicted the acquisition of speech.

The findings indicate that targeted, intensive treatments may be the most successful for the improvement of specific skills.

Source: University of Missouri 

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