What Is Autism Early Intervention?

Research has found that early intervention for children with autism can have a profound impact on their outcomes.

Early intervention consists of treatments and therapies in which children participate after they have been diagnosed with autism. Since most diagnoses are made by the time a child is age 3, early intervention is not just early post-diagnosis, but early in the child’s life as well.

Social and communication skills are the focus of many early intervention techniques.

One early intervention is known as applied behavioral analysis. Based on B. F. Skinner’s work, applied behavioral analysis works much like positive reinforcement.

A verbal or physical stimulus (such as a request or command) is made of a child, and the child’s behavior results in the form of a response, or lack thereof.

The response, in turn, elicits a consequence, which can include positive reinforcement of the response, or no consequence for negative behavior. This intervention technique works to enhance a child’s communication and social interaction skills.

Pivotal response therapy is a therapy that is used to increase social, academic, and communication skills; the “pivotal” reference is core behaviors that affect a range of other behaviors.

The therapy is child-directed in that the child decides what activities may be part of the intervention. So, for instance, if a child attempts to communicate that he wants to swing on a swing, and then he’s rewarded with that activity.

The goal here is to improve the child’s communication as well as play and social skills.

Strengthening poor communication skills is a goal of autism intervention. Verbal behavior therapy works to help children verbalize their needs and desires.

So, for example, if a child learns to say “cup,” then he or she wants a drink from a cup. When the child is given the cup in response to the request, the word is reinforced. The child then learns to use words to obtain objects.

Floortime is a therapy that synthesizes several skills in a play-like setting.

Parents or the therapist shares activities with the child and gets down on the floor with him or her to meet the child where he or she is, both developmentally and in a literal, physical sense.

The focus here is not on speech, motor, or cognitive skills as discrete skills, but rather the confluence of these skills.

Floortime emphasizes emotional development as well. During floortime, engaging with the child and moving the child toward more complex interactions helps the child to communicate.

Early, appropriate intervention can significantly increase the social, emotional, and language skills of a child with autism. To read more about early intervention techniques, visit How Do I Get The Help My Child Needs?