If your toddler or preschooler was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), you may have a lot of questions. Some of your questions may be about the term “early intervention.” Maybe a child psychologist or your pediatrician recommended that you seek “early intervention” care, or you have read about it online but are not sure what it is or how it can help. You aren’t alone. If you have questions about early intervention, please read on.
At Opya, we help hundreds of children with ASD each day using early intervention care, which are therapies that start as soon as your toddler or preschooler is diagnosed with ASD. In this article, we explain what early intervention care means, share the research behind it, and explain the tremendous benefits early intervention therapies can provide for your child.
Early intervention means starting care at an early age
As the phrase suggests, early intervention care means starting treatment and therapy for developmentally challenged children as early as eighteen months old to help them overcome these challenges and work toward meeting important development milestones. Treatments typically last for two to three years and should be tailored to meet a child’s specific needs and goals.
Starting early can make a huge difference
Most professionals agree that early intervention childhood care for autism is essential because of the concept of “neuroplasticity,” which is the ability of a person’s brain to form new connections that help it develop as the person learns based on experiences. Our brains develop the most in the earliest years of life, and it is no different for children with developmental challenges. So, the earlier we can identify and start care for developmentally challenged children, the better chance they have to learn, grow, and succeed.
Early childhood therapy can dramatically improve a child’s overall development. Children who receive autism-specific care at early and key developmental stages are much more likely to learn essential social skills and achieve better outcomes.
When therapy starts at an early age, the child’s family benefits too. The education and training that we provide to our families gives them the skills they need to help their children when the therapist is not with them, so they can improve in all aspects of their lives, including behaviorally, mentally, and emotionally.
Consistent care and frequent reinforcement are key
Another term that is commonly used is “Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention” (EIBI), which is based on the proven concept that care should be provided early and often to best support skill development, reinforce positive behaviors, and minimize negative behaviors. Frequent reinforcement helps young brains learn more quickly and the learnings last longer. The therapy is broken up into small steps that are more manageable for the child so that the child is not overwhelmed and can master one set of skills at a time. In addition, EIBI also helps children focus their attention, improve their ability to understand conversations, talk more, and work on their daily living skills.
There are two main characteristics of early intervention programs designed for children with ASD: the intensity of the program and the age at which children begin the program. Most early intervention programs involve about 30 hours of therapy per week to provide the greatest impact of the therapy and optimize outcomes for each child.
Research supports starting care at an early age
In a recent survey, 98% of medical professionals including pediatricians, child psychiatrists, child psychologists and developmental pediatricians agreed that early intervention treatment for ASD is important.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children be screened for ASD at ages 18 and 24 months, along with regular developmental screenings. The AAP specifically says that toddlers “should be referred for diagnostic evaluation when increased risk for developmental disorders, including ASD, is identified through screening and/or surveillance.” And to emphasize the importance they place on early intervention, the AAP goes on to say that “children should be referred for intervention for all identified developmental delays at the time of identification and not wait for an ASD diagnostic evaluation to take place.”
The practical outcomes of early intervention.
Based on Opya’s years of caring for young children and their families, we decided to focus on early intervention therapy because it has been proven to result in better outcomes. We see our clients achieve major milestones every day as they progress and grow. Two of the most important practical outcomes of early intervention ABA therapy that we strive for are getting your child prepared for elementary school and becoming more independent.
Getting ready for school
One of the main benefits of early intervention is that it provides your child with the unique opportunity to make great developmental strides before they enter a school setting. Our care is specifically designed to help your child be prepared for and thrive in elementary school. For example, some of the skills necessary for school that we emphasize are communication, play skills, sharing, and taking turns. We also work on fine motor skills that will be used in a school setting such as writing and drawing with pencils and markers and using utensils during lunchtime.
Becoming more independent
With the behavior therapies that we offer, the other primary goal is to help your child become more independent. Providing the tools that your child needs to become more independent looks different in each child based on their unique needs.
In this area, goals may include becoming more independent with daily living tasks, increasing spoken communication skills, using augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) devices, increasing play skills, and decreasing negative behaviors.
Every child is different, and you should speak to your pediatrician or child psychologist about what they believe makes the most sense for your child. With an early intervention ABA therapy program that is custom built for your child’s needs, and parent and family education and training so you can support your child when the therapist is not there, your child can thrive and reach his or her development goals and lead their best life.