Good Practice

Early Intervention

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.

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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.

Further reading:

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.

Interactive timetable

To see how many opportunities you already have in your everyday schedule for using strategies learnt in therapy, drag and drop the tiles below into the timetable and watch the hours add up!!

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday


Total hours: 0

Anxiety is a state of worry or fear about a real or perceived threatening event or situation, which often impairs physical and psychological functioning.

Articulation is how one makes sounds in words.

Auditory processing is the ability to perceive, interpret and respond to sound (auditory) stimuli. For example; a child who experiences difficulty processing auditory stimuli may be respond negatively to noise that you would not typically expect to bother someone, such as a vacuum cleaner. Alternatively, a child may have a decreased awareness of auditory stimuli and may not respond when their name is called.

A baseline is a measurement taken at one point in time against which future scores will be compared to measure progress. For example, before speech therapy begins, a therapist might measure how many objects a child can name. They might then measure this again one month, two months and three months after therapy has started to see how much progress the child has made.

Body awareness is the ability to recognise different parts of your own body, and their relative position.

Cognition refers to the mental process of acquiring knowledge.

A child’s developmental age will indicate where a child is socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually on their path of development, as compared to typical behaviors and characteristics of that age.

Early intervention means doing something, or intervening, as early as possible to work on your child’s development and support needs.

Explicit teaching involves setting aside a block of time to work on a specific skill or task.

Expressive language is how one expresses their needs, wants, thoughts, and feelings.

Fine motor skills refer to the use of small muscle of the hands and fingers that allow us to manipulate and control objects and materials. This includes tasks that involve grasping (for example using a crayon or pencil), manipulating objects (using scissors) or activities that require hand-eye coordination (like threading, writing, doing up buttons and zips).

Gross motor skills refer to the use of the large muscle groups of the body that enable us to maintain an upright posture and coordinate the two sides of the body. Gross motor skills allow us to run, skip, climb and jump.

Gustatory processing is the ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to taste (gustatory) information. For example; a child who has difficulty processing taste information may have a self-limited diet, alternatively, they may crave strong flavours excessively such as spicy or sour.

A joint therapy session is when there are two or more therapists working with your child at the same time. This is generally two therapists from different disciplines.

Key word sign is the use of manual signs and natural gesture to support communication.  Key word sign is used to encourage and support language development in children with communication difficulties.

A low registering child does not register sensations at a typical level and does not seek out sensory stimulation. For example, a child that does not register auditory input at a typical level, may not notice when their name is being called.

Motor planning is the ability of the brain to plan and organise an action before it is carried out.

A multidisciplinary team includes members from different healthcare professions with specialised skills and expertise. The members collaborate together to make treatment recommendations for your child.

Non-verbal communication refers to elements of communication such as gesture, facial expression, and body language.

Olfactory processing is the ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to smell (olfactory) information. For example; a child presenting with an olfactory processing issue may smell objects excessively, alternatively, they may be over sensitive to smell information and actively avoid it.

Opportunistic teaching is using everyday ‘opportunities’ or activities to teach and practice the skills outlined in your child’s therapy plan.

Percentile rank is another way of explaining where your child’s score sits in comparison to other children their age. For example, if your child receives a standard score of 85 which is at the 16th percentile, this means that your child’s score was better than or equal to the score of 16% of other children his or her age. Another way of looking at it is that if 100 children completed this test and you lined them up from the person with the lowest score to the person with the highest score, your child would be standing in position 16.

Pragmatic language refers to the social use of language and includes the ability to understand verbal (tone of voice) and non-verbal cues (eye gaze, body language, facial expression)  as well as the social rules of language (turn taking, staying on topic, showing interest in others’ conversation).

Proprioception is the ability to understand where your body is in space. The receptors for this system are located in the muscles and joints of the body. For example; a child who experiences difficulty with the processing of proprioceptive information may have a decreased perception of pain, or seek movement excessively and appear to always be ‘on the go’.

Receptive language is how well one understands language, this includes information that is given verbally or in written form.

Self-care skills can also be referred to as ‘independence skills’. This include skills such as dressing, toileting, bathing, eating, and sleeping.

A sensory avoiding child is one who actively avoids sensory stimuli. For example a child who is sensitive to tactile (touch) information may not be able to wear certain clothing types such as wool.

Sensory processing is the way in which the brain receives, organises and responds to sensory information for everyday use. It also includes our ability to plan our actions and movements.

A child who is a sensory seeker does not register sensations at a typical level so may seek out sensory stimulation with increased frequency and intensity. For example a child who does not register taste information at a typical level may seek out spicy, salty, or very sweet foods.

A sensory sensitive child is easily overwhelmed by small amounts of sensory input. For example: a child with a sensitivity to auditory input may notice sounds that others do not register.

Sequencing is the ability to follow a set of steps within a task.

Skill generalisation is the ability to take a skill learned in one environment and successfully transfer it to another. For example a child first learns to use the toilet at home and then is able to use the toilet at kindergarten.

Social skills enable us to interact with people within our world and understand social rules. For a child, this begins with skills such as turn-taking, saying hello, and waiting.

Spatial awareness is the ability to perceive the position of your body in space.

A standardised assessment is a tool that has been designed to determine a child’s developmental level when compared to other children of the same age. Standardised assessments give a clear score that can be used as a baseline for therapy.

Tactile processing is the ability to receive, interpret, and respond to touch (tactile) information. For example; a child who has difficulty processing tactile information may not tolerate the feel of certain fabrics on their skin. Alternatively, they may not notice touch in the way they would be expected to.

The team around your child is anyone who plays an important role in your child’s development. Starting with the parents/carers, this may also include; therapists, teacher, respite worker, siblings, grandparents etc. The ‘team’ will vary depending on the child’s needs.

Verbal communication refers to speaking, either with or without aids for support.

The vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is responsible for our balance, understanding of motion, and spatial awareness. For example; a child who experiences vestibular processing issues may become distressed when their feet leave the ground, alternatively, they may crave vestibular input and spin or rock excessively.

Visual perception is the ability to understand, interpret and remember what one sees and respond accordingly.

Visual processing is the ability to perceive, interpret, and respond to visual stimuli. For example; a child who has difficulty processing visual information may be easily distracted by visual stimuli within their environment or become focused on a certain part of an object such as watching the wheels of a toy truck spin.