May 7, 2007 Intensive intervention given to toddlers with autism as young as three years old can significantly raise IQ levels, potentially allowing them to benefit from mainstream education, new research has revealed.
Researchers at the University of Southampton, led by Professor Bob Remington of the School of Psychology and Professor Richard Hastings (now at Bangor University), undertook a study into the impact of two years of Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI).
The results of the Southampton Childhood Autism programme (SCAmP) show that a group of children who received two years of intensive tutoring - or early intervention - had higher IQs, more advanced language and better daily living skills than similar children receiving standard educational provision.
IQ increased for two thirds of the children receiving the early intervention and 'very substantially' for more than a quarter of them. For example one child moved from an IQ of 30 up to 70; another from an IQ of 72 to 115. Most of the population of the UK has an IQ of between 85 and 115.
In what was a 'tough test' into whether EIBI could prove beneficial, specially trained staff and parents taught children with autism a wide range of skills in their own homes for 25 hours a week. Teaching was individualised to take full advantage of each child's abilities and focus on areas of need; each lesson was carefully broken down into easy steps and children received constant praise and other rewards for their successes.
'This form of teaching can, in many cases, lead to major change and enhance the life chances of children with autism,' said Professor Remington. 'In practice, the positive changes we see in IQ, language and daily living skills can make a real difference to the future lives of children with autism.
'But those embarking on EIBI should prepare for some hard work. Twenty five hours of home therapy a week is a big commitment for children and parents alike. Before the research began we wondered if such intensive work would increase the emotional and psychological demands of childrearing, as teaching basic skills needs a lot of dedication and patience and family organisation has to adapt to the ever-present home tutors.
'In fact most parents took this in their stride. The reasons are clear. It's harder to be helpless than it is to get involved in teaching, and in most cases our parents saw rapid improvements in their children's skills and behaviour.'
An estimated 535,000 people in the UK are living with a condition on the autism spectrum.
The SCAmP team is embarking on a follow-up study with those children who took part in the research to establish how long-lasting the effects of the treatment are and how benefits can be extended.
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