Early Intervention Later On
The Long Term Benefits of Parent-Mediated Early Interventions
The importance of early intervention for children diagnosed with autism is regularly repeated by clinicians and researchers alike. It is well documented that early intervention greatly improves the future outcomes of children with autism by establishing the foundations for parent-child interactions, social communication skills, and other communicative behaviors early in a child’s life. More and more frequently, early interventions are involving parents as a way to generalize therapeutic interventions into a child’s everyday life.
A study completed in 2010, titled Preschool Autism Communication Trial (PACT), boasted positive results in favor of a parent-led social communication intervention. Parents were trained by therapists in how to implement the intervention, and the therapies were delivered for twelve months. An autism diagnostic test measured symptom severity before, during, and after the twelve months of therapy.
Did it work?
Yes! Results showed a lower symptom severity score for both those receiving the intervention as well as those who were receiving their routine treatments (the control group), but the reduction in symptom severity was much greater in those receiving the parent-implemented intervention.
Is it still working?
It seems so! Recently, the researchers who conducted this study did a follow-up of almost all participants (122 out of 152 to be exact) in the original study. They found that the children who had received the intervention still showed significantly reduced severities autism symptoms, whereas the symptoms of the children who had not received the intervention had almost returned to the same severity level of before the initial study. Parents who had been taught to implement the intervention also reported much greater improvements in their children’s repetitive behaviors and social difficulties than did those who were not using the PACT early intervention.
This was not only one of the largest follow-up studies of an early intervention for children with autism, but also one of the longest, taking place an average of 6 years after the participants’ conclusion of the original study. The success of this intervention is being credited to the parent involvement aspect of the intervention. By teaching parents how to implement social communication interventions at home, a child’s treatment can be extended from therapist and clinician visits to his or her everyday life at home. Parents can take the practices they learn and continue to use them and build upon them for years to come. While there is still a need for more studies of this kind to be conducted, it is safe to say that early intervention strategies involving parents can have a long-term positive effect on children with autism.
Pickles, Andrew et al. Parent-mediated social communication therapy for young children with autism (PACT): Long-term follow-up of a randomised control trial. The Lancet, 0(0). Retrieved November 3, 2016, from http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)31229-6/fulltext