Early Intervention: Why is Early Intervention Important?

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

October 4, 2022

Autism can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months old. Diagnosing children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as early as possible is essential to ensure children receive the services and support they need to reach their full potential. 

Early intervention refers to services and support that infants and toddlers receive for developmental delays and disabilities.

What Is Early Intervention for Autism?

Early intervention targets preschool-aged children. Studies show that early interventions are more likely to be effective if services are provided earlier in life. 

It’s easier for a child’s brain to make new connections and adapt to changes while they are still growing. Brain connections are also known as neural circuits. These neural circuits are the foundation of learning, behavior, and health. It’s easier for a child’s brain to make new connections and adapt to changes while they are still growing. In children younger than 3 years old, neural circuits are more adaptable and easier to change.

After receiving an ASD diagnosis, you should act early to influence a child’s developmental path while the neural circuits of their brain are still developing. 

Goals of Early Intervention

Early intervention programs can help children with autism learn basic skills that will help improve their outcomes later in life. The skills that early intervention can help improve are:

  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Communication
  • Thinking 

Benefits of Early Intervention

Children who receive early intervention for autism can see improvement in the symptoms of autism, including:

  • Increased IQ
  • Improved adaptive behavior
  • A change to a more mild autism diagnosis

Can Early Intervention Cure Autism?

While there is no cure for autism, early intervention programs can drastically improve the symptoms of autism in many children. Studies show that with early intervention programs, progress can be so dramatic that up to 25 percent of children with an autism diagnosis do not need additional services later in life. These children tend to be diagnosed at an early age, have higher IQs, and start with better language and motor skills. 

Follow-up studies in children who completed early intervention programs have shown that improvement of autism symptoms is maintained for at least five years. Research is still ongoing to discover the benefits later in life.

Early Intervention Therapy Methods

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) methods have been shown to improve outcomes for children diagnosed with autism at an early age. 

Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI)

EIBI is used in preschoolers with autism. It uses many of the principles of ABA therapy to help children with autism learn new behaviors and skills. 

Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

ESDM is designed for children with autism aged 12 to 48 months. It uses play, social exchanges, and shared attention in natural settings to improve language, social, and learning skills.

Screening for Autism at an Early Age

An autism diagnosis can only be provided by a healthcare professional. An autism diagnosis can sometimes be missed, especially if there is a possibility that the child’s symptoms are caused by something else, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  

Some parents might worry that 2 years old is too young to receive an autism diagnosis. Studies show that an autism diagnosis in children as young as 2 years is reliable when evaluated by trained health care professionals. 

Parents and caregivers can complete a questionnaire called the modified checklist for autism in toddlers (M-CHAT) to identify warning signs for autism. The questionnaire can be found here.

Developmental Evaluation

Developmental evaluation starts at home. Caregivers, like parents or grandparents, should monitor developmental milestones every 2 to 3 months for the first two years of life. Milestone checklists are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and can be found here

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends developmental screening be completed by a trained health care professional at ages 9, 18, and 30 months. Additionally, screening specifically for ASD should take place at ages 18 months and 24 months.

Accessing Early Intervention Programs

Each state or territory has different early intervention programs available. The contact for each state’s early intervention program can be found here.

For children under 3 years old, call your state’s early intervention program and say, “I have concerns about my child’s development, and I would like to have my child evaluated to find out if he/she is eligible for early intervention services.” You do not need a referral from a doctor. 

For children aged 3 years or older, you can call any public elementary school in your area and say, “I have concerns about my child’s development, and I would like to have my child evaluated through the school system for preschool special education services.” More information about special education services for preschoolers can be found here.

Conclusion

Early intervention for autism is important to ensure the best possible outcomes. Although early intervention cannot cure autism, it can improve many of the symptoms of autism and even lead to a more mild diagnosis and reduced utilization of autism services. To provide the best interventions, it is important to monitor developmental milestones and screen for autism. 

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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