Research demonstrates that you should begin therapy to assist with your child's development as early as possible.
You will hear the term early intervention used regularly by health professionals and researchers; early intervention means doing something, or intervening, as early as possible to work on your child’s development and support needs.
Research has shown that a multidisciplinary approach to early intervention in children with ASD provides the best developmental outcomes. The early years are a key time of development for any child. Children with ASD will often have complex needs; accessing support from a number of professionals working on different areas towards the same goal will provide well rounded, holistic care for your child.
Early intervention for your child will often involve a range of professionals such as a speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and special educators. It may take place within an early intervention centre, at kindergarten, or within the home environment.
Early intervention programs may take the form of individual sessions, joint therapy sessions or the participation in therapy groups that are led by a therapist or an early childhood educator with specialist training.
It is important that you as a primary caregiver are involved in this process so that you can learn skills and strategies to assist with your child's development outside of a structured therapy session.
There is no one-size-fits-all model, and the type of intervention your child receives will depend on the availability of services within your local area and the needs of your child and family.
Early invention in this context describes a combination of therapists working to develop a child’s abilities early in their life, however, therapy can be helpful at other times as well. In later years of life, you may find that you access a targeted therapy for a specified period of time. For example an occupational therapist may be required for a child with handwriting difficulties as they progress through primary school, however, they may not have other therapy needs so may not access other therapists at that point in time.
It may take you some time to come to terms with a diagnosis of ASD and depending on family circumstances, intervention may not begin as soon as the diagnosis is made. It is important to remember that intervention at any stage is beneficial and it is important that the family circumstances fit the therapy being accessed.
For additional information on early intervention for children with ASD, please see the Guidelines for Good Practice summary by Professors Margot Prior and Jacqueline Roberts at the link below.
Evidence Based Practice
Evidence based practice (also called ‘best practice’ or ‘good practice’) means using treatment approaches that have been tested through research and are shown to have positive outcomes for children with ASD.
There are hundreds of proposed ‘treatments’ for ASD, but unfortunately, many of these do not have direct research evidence to support their effectiveness. Some have even been found to be harmful for use with children with ASD.
Parents need to be careful about claims that particular therapies or interventions will ‘cure’ or ‘fix’ their child. We know that ASD is a lifelong condition for which there is no cure. While therapies and interventions will not ‘cure’ ASD, a number of treatments have been shown to lead to great improvements for children.
Levels of evidence* for treatment effectiveness are sometimes defined in the following way:
Established treatments – these have been thoroughly researched and have sufficient evidence for us to confidently state that they are effective
Emerging treatments – these have some evidence of effectiveness, but more research is needed for us to be confident that they are truly effective
Unestablished treatments – these are treatments for which there is no sound evidence of effectiveness.
*From the National Standards Project, National Autism Center
The Raising Children Network’s Parent Guide to Therapies provides an overview of some of the therapies you might come across. The guide gives an overview of the therapy, looks at what research says about the therapy, and outlines the approximate time and costs involved. This is a useful tool to help you decide which therapy might work best for your child and family. If you have further questions, you can contact your child’s Autism Advisor or your state autism association.
Whilst there is still much to learn about effective therapies for children with ASD, researchers are working hard to figure out what the best therapy options are. We don't have all of the answers yet and hopefully in years to come we will have a clear indication of the most effective therapeutic approach.
Prior, M., Roberts, J. M.A., Rodger, S., Williams, K. & Sutherland, R. (2011). A review of the research to identify the most effective models of practice in early intervention of children with autism spectrum disorders. Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Australia.