A recent study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found additional evidence that early intervention is key to addressing the social difficulties associated with Autism. Though some parents are told to “wait and see” if their child develops more severe symptoms of Autism, catching warning signs and intervening early appears to lead to the most favorable outcomes.
In this recent study, called the Early Achievements program, two year old children met four days a week for two and a half hours in a classroom setting. Half of the participating children were placed in a classroom that emphasized developing social behaviors. Though both groups demonstrated language and cognitive improvements, the group that was taught social behaviors showed improvements in their social imitation, emotion-sharing through facial expressions, and eye contact. This group also tripled the frequency with which they followed the gaze of another person or used their eyes or hands to direct someone’s attention. They also made drastic gains in their nonverbal communication compared to the toddlers in the other group.
This study found that even this small change in the toddler’s environment produced significant changes, which lasted over time. Children with Autism tend to lack interaction with other children, which often leads to further lack of social skills and subsequent social isolation. By intervening early, we may be able to equip children with the social skills necessary to provide them with additional social opportunity in the future.