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Early, Intensive Help For Autistic Kids Shows Promise

Toddlers with autism spectrum disorder seem to do better if they're enrolled in a program of intensive therapy, according to a study in the January issue of Pediatrics .

Child's hand pressed against a steam-covered window.
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But the approach is costly and requires a major effort by parents and trained therapists.

The study looked at 48 children between 18 and 30 months old who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

Half got the sort of interventions typically available in a community. The other half got an intervention called the Early Start Denver Model, which has trained therapists work with children in their homes four hours a day, five days a week.

The model also requires parents to use its strategies with their children. And parents involved in this study said they spent more than 16 hours a week doing so. All the effort appeared to pay off.

After two years, kids who got the intensive intervention showed significantly greater improvements in language skills. They also scored higher in measures of social skills.

But repetitive behaviors, a hallmark of autism, did not diminish. And a widely used measure of autism severity found no difference between children who got intensive intervention and children who didn't.

The study makes the Early Start Denver Model one of the few autism interventions (which typically cost tens of thousands of dollars a year) to get rigorous scientific testing. Two of the study's authors developed the model and receive royalties from it.

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