How effective are early interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)? Many treatments demonstrate short-term effectiveness, but a new study finds that improvements from a method called the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) are maintained two years after the treatment. The findings contribute to evidence supporting the effectiveness of the ESDM, which is one of the few ASD treatments backed by a randomized controlled trial. Although the study’s scope is limited, the findings may lead to better interventions with greater long-term efficacy.
The study followed up on an earlier investigation into the ESDM. In ESDM, a trained therapist uses play routines to help toddlers learn new skills, offering positive reinforcement when the toddler performs the target skill. For the original study, 24 children with ASD aged 18 to 30 months received ESDM for 20 hours each week for two years. An additional 24 children did not receive the ESDM intervention.
Approximately two years after the study ended, the researchers investigated whether the improvements from the EDSM were maintained. They asked parents of the children to complete a questionnaire. They also conducted clinical evaluations of the children. Nine of the children from the original study did not participate in the follow-up evaluation.
Both the control children and the children who received ESDM demonstrated improvements two years later. According to parent reports, all the children improved on measures of intelligence, communication, and daily living skills. The reports also indicated that the children in the ESDM group improved more than the controls on a combined measure of social, communication, and daily living skills.
The clinical evaluations revealed that children in the ESDM group demonstrated fewer and less severe repetitive behaviors. These children also scored better on a measure of autism severity. Neither group demonstrated significant changes in social deficits.
The study is small, but its findings suggest that the ESDM could have long-term benefits for children with ASD.
This research is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
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