Why is early intervention so important?
Autism is not rare; it affects 1 in 100 people in Australia. There is no known cause and no cure, but research shows early intervention makes a significant difference to a child’s development leading to improved outcomes for children with autism, including increased social, communication and daily living skills (Boyd et al., 2014; Magiati, Tay, & Howlin, 2012; Prior, Roberts, Roger, & Williams, 2011; Warren et al., 2011).
Key elements of good practice in early intervention that lead to the best likelihood of positive outcomes for children with ASD have been identified through reviews of the research and are documented in the Australian “Guidelines for Good Practice” (Prior & Roberts, 2012) which AEIOU uses to inform its program. In addition, AEIOU draws from established evidence-based strategies (Wong et al., 2014) in informing the use of specific practices for each child. Three examples include the Early Start Denver Model, VB MAPP, and the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis.
We have evaluated the outcomes of the AEIOU program and found improvements in autism symptoms and increases in communication and daily living skills (Paynter, Scott, Beamish, Duhig, & Heussler, 2012), and continue to conduct research to further evaluate and improve our outcomes. Further research of our program has also found promising results in terms of increases in everyday life skills (Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales), particularly around communication, increases in cognitive skills (Vivanti, Paynter, Duncan, Fothergill, Dissanayake, & Rogers, 2014), and decreases in autism symptoms (Social Communication Questionnaire).
Young children with autism who receive the recommended early intervention have a much greater chance of developing meaningful and lasting friendships and relationships and, later in life, of living independently and securing employment, with long-term research showing benefits for children as they grow and develop (Howlin, 1997).
According to a report by Synergies Economic Consulting (2014), autism costs Australia an estimated $8 billion a year in healthcare, social services and education costs, employment and informal care costs, and burden of disease costs (quality of life impacts). The report showed that if the nation spent $118 million a year on early intervention for about 1,200 pre-school children with autism who stood to benefit from the intervention, Australia would reap a total net economic benefit of an estimated $1.22 billion a year with a benefit cost ratio of 11.3.
If you would like to read more about early intervention, a good place to start for quality information from a reputable, non-partisan source is the Raising Children's Network website.