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.
The results of a two year study into the impact of Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) were announced today by Geoffrey Maddrell, chairman of charity Research Autism, the UK's independent expert body into autistic therapies (interventions).
A team from the University of Southampton undertook the research, funded by several UK charities including Research Autism, The Health Foundation and The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
Results show that a group of children who received two years of intensive tutoring ('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," said Professor Bob Remington, Deputy Head of Southampton University's School of Psychology. "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 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."
The results of the research were announced at an event organised by Research Autism and attended by John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to launch the world's first information centre for autism interventions.
Interventions are therapies that could make it possible for people with autism to live more easily with their condition and lead full, and more fulfilled lives. They come in a variety of forms including diet, behavioural therapy, massage, structured education and communication techniques.
Despite an estimated 500,000 people in the UK alone living with a condition on the autism spectrum, there has never before been a central resource for parents, the medical community or people with autism to find information about properly researched interventions.
Geoffrey Maddrell, Research Autism's chairman, said: "In the past, finding information about the range of interventions available was often a matter of chance and sometimes rumour. Speculation about some untested interventions abounds, which leads to sometimes dangerous 'cures' being touted as effective, often to quite desperate audiences.
"The website should prove invaluable for the thousands who previously had nowhere to turn for information about what could help improve the lives of someone with an autistic condition."
www.researchautism.net lists more than 35 interventions and details the research undertaken to support them, or lack of. Each is graded for its potential efficacy. There is also a section requesting feedback to help develop new focus for research.
Mr Maddrell, who launched Research Autism at the request of the National Autistic Society three years ago, said research into interventions for individuals with autism was massively underfunded, and that Research Autism had identified three key headings that required urgent research: Identification, Intervention and Inclusion.
Said Mr Maddrell: "We can no longer leave those on the autistic spectrum and their families to muddle through, in huge distress; we can no longer leave a huge number of adults to lead solitary lives of isolation and exclusion; we can no longer leave the statutory authorities not knowing in many instances where to turn and where to direct resources. In this relatively early stage in the story of autism, certainly compared with other health issues, we must now marshal the resources for breakthrough research."
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Bernard Fleming, Information Manager, Tel. 020 3490 3091, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Research Autism is the only UK charity dedicated to the production of quality, trusted information on autism treatments and other approaches. Its Information Centre is informed by world experts and accredited by the NHS Information Standard, an independent kite-mark of reliability and quality. It guides people through the minefield of interventions on offer, allowing them to make informed decisions based on impartial, factual information, including risks and hazards. Its research programme is derived from the priorities of autistic people and families and addresses areas that affect everyday life.