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Scotts Valley Counseling Center

Early Intervention and Autism Spectrum Disorder

By Sheryl Isaacs, MS
Studies have shown that when early intervention occurs with children that experience developmental delays it will change the outcome for the child. In this article I will focus on the specific benefits of early intervention behavioral therapy (EIBT) for children that have autism.
The signs of autism can be insidious and hard to recognize. In order to recognize the a-typical development that occurs with autism, it is important to know what typical development looks like. This can be difficult, especially for first time parents. With an infant that has autism, it is a slight deviation from normal development. Many times it is the lack of or lessened occurrence of a typical pattern of development that occurs. Infants can be categorized as good babies that are not demanding. Many signs of autism can be seen before 2 years of age.
Studies have shown that when early intervention behavioral therapy (EIBT) occurs before the age of two many children can be mainstreamed in typical classrooms. Intensive EIBT before the age of two has been shown to help “rewire” a child’s brain and in some cases reverse the signs of autism. When the deficient areas are targeted, such as imitation, joint attention and play skills, there is an increase in expressive and receptive language by the child who has autism. When imitation, joint attention and play skills increase it opens up a whole new world of interaction for the children. An increase in these areas enables the children to test better on developmental test and effectively can raise their IQ scores when tested.
The most effective EIBT program will increase the parent’s responsiveness to their child through therapy and in home treatment. Parents are given the tools to continue treatment on a daily basis with their child, which will benefit the child and parent. When a parent is taught to follow their child’s lead in communication, non-verbal communication will increase and possible verbal communications occur. Parents will learn to require the child to vocalize during interactions and requests. At first these vocalization requests will be far from the targeted word, but in time closer approximations to the word will occur. As parents continue to utilize the skills that are learned through the EIBT program they will be more effective parents for their child with ASD.
Parents must also learn to “scaffold” various skills. Scaffolding occurs when a larger skill is broken down into smaller components. Help is provided to the child until they become familiar with the new items that have been introduced within the larger skill. Teaching continues in this manner until the child masters the task. This type of teaching will enable the parent to focus on their child’s level of learning and have the knowledge and ability to help their child reach the next level of learning, regardless of the present skill level. This technique can increase many skills: play skills, self-help skills, language skills, motor skills and cognitive skills. As parents continue to “scaffold” the child’s learning will solidify in these areas because they are always beginning the learning task at a level that is just above their acquired level, which increases success and a level of mastery.
Further research continues to be being done to increase recognition of autism at an earlier age. All research points to early intervention being the key in providing the best outcomes for children with autism. One exciting study links weak head and neck muscles to ASD. Here is a link to the video and information on the study: This study was done the Kennedy Krieger Institute.S
In this article, EIBT was addressed as an early intervention for children that have autism. It is important to remember that any child that is experiencing any delay in any developmental domain (physical, cognitive, social and emotional) should receive early intervention services. Below you will find warning sign for autism and a list of links that can help determine what steps you can take in getting your child the help they need to succeed!
The following list was taken from
Early signs of autism in babies and toddlers
  • Doesn’t make eye contact (e.g. look at you when being fed).
  • Doesn't smile when smiled at.
  • Doesn't respond to his or her name or to the sound of a familiar voice.
  • Doesn’t follow objects visually.
  • Doesn't point or wave goodbye or use other gestures to communicate.
  • Doesn’t follow the gesture when you point things out.
  • Doesn’t make noises to get your attention.
  • Doesn’t initiate or respond to cuddling.
  • Doesn’t imitate your movements and facial expressions.
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up.
  • Doesn’t play with other people or share interest and enjoyment.
  • Doesn’t ask for help or make other basic requests.