Remington, B., Hastings, R. P., Kovshoff, H., Degli Espinosa, F., Jahr, E., Brown, T., et al. (2007). Early intensive behavioral intervention: Outcomes for children with autism and their parents after two years. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 112, 418-438.

Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, MA
Caldwell College

Why research this topic?

A growing body of research suggests that early intensive and structured treatment based on applied behavior analysis (ABA) is more effective than standard community treatment and less intensive ABA. This study compared early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) to a standard special-education public school program and extended previous work by including more comprehensive assessments of changes in autistic symptoms and effects on families.

What did the researcher do?

Forty-four children with autism spectrum disorders between the ages of 30-42 months were assigned to groups based on parental preference. The first group received early intensive behavioral treatment that consisted of 1:1 teaching based on the principles of ABA for 25.6 hours per week. The students in standard special education received a variety of treatments, none of them intensive or reliant on 1:1 teaching.

What did the researchers find?

After two years, the children receiving intensive behavioral treatment had higher IQ scores, daily living skills and language as compared to the children in the standard public school program. They also displayed fewer autistic symptoms, and their parents reported more positive social behaviors. Six children in EIBI achieved reliable gains in IQ and approached the IQ range for the typical population. In contrast, three children in the comparison group showed reliable IQ gains, but three others showed reliable IQ losses. In addition, 17 students who received intensive behavioral treatment were enrolled in a mainstream classroom, compared to only 10 students from the public school program.

What were the strengths and limitations of the study? What do the results mean?

Overall, the children receiving intensive behavioral treatment out-performed those children in the special education public school program. The study confirms previous research indicating that early intensive behavioral treatment accelerates overall development. Two new findings are that this treatment can reduce autistic symptoms and that, in the most comprehensive test of the effects of the treatment on families, there was no evidence of a negative impact on the family. The study had two significant limitations: rather than being randomly assigned to a treatment group, parents chose which group their child would participate in, and the groups were small. Nevertheless, the study makes an important addition to research on early intensive behavioral treatment.

Citation for this article:

Moran, K. (2009). Research review: Early intensive behavioral intervention: Outcomes for children with autism and their parents after two years. Science in Autism Treatment, 6(2), 3.

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