Early Intervention is an Autism Best-Practice

This is part of a paper I wrote about Early Intervention. It’s a little long, and a little wordy for the casual internet reader, but, every once in awhile, it’s important to nerd out and get intellectual and precise. There is a link to my citations at the end.

Here we go.

In the United States, the idea of ‘early intervention’ (EI) arose in the late 1950’s, and early 1960’s amidst the fallout of Brown vs. the Board of Education. At the time, many people believed humans inherited their intelligence genetically, and that differences in standardized scores could be explained by race or heritage (Ramey & Ramey, 1998). Against this backdrop of inherited intelligence, several learning theorists began to focus their research on the significance of the first few years of life (Harlow, 1958, Hunt, 1961). Additionally, a study done by Skeels and Dye (both named Harold) influenced the psychological community about intelligence development in children with mental retardation, and the potential intelligence-development of all children (Skeels & Dye, 1939).

As the idea of a mutable, developable intelligence grew, several researches performed pivotal, successful, randomized early intervention trials on young children (Caldwell, 1973), which provided the basis for the federally funded Head Start program in the United States (Zigler & Muenchow 1992). Incidentally, Sputnik, the Russian satellite launched in 1957, had just trumped the United States in the technological innovation category, and it is rumored that programs like Head Start were more willingly funded in the hopes of creating smarter students, more quickly (Ramey & Ramey, 1998).

The Head Start program set the precedent for other government funded interventions, including early intervention programs for children with disabilities (Ramey & Ramey, 1998). Each state is now required to provide early intervention for those who qualify using, “services which are designed to meet the developmental needs of an infant or toddler with a disability, as identified by the individualized family service plan (IFSP) team, in any one or more of the following areas: physical development, cognitive development, communication development, social or emotional development, or adaptive development “(IDEA, 2004).

For children with autism, early intervention began in the 1980’s after Eric Schopler revealed that outcomes for children on the spectrum could be improved through direct teaching (Schopler, 1987). Researchers then studied outcomes for younger children, and found that, with proper techniques, many children who receive early intervention services make measurable developmental gains (Bryson, Rogers, & Fombonn 2003, Dawson, 2008). Early intervention is now considered a best-practice in the autism field (Woods & Wetherby, 2003, Stahmer, & Aarons, 2009), and each state is mandated though the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) to provide free early intervention services (IDEA, 2004). However, the precise method by which these services are presented differs throughout the nation (Odom, & Wolery 2003).

Although each early intervention service may feature a different array of treatments, the most effective early intervention programs for children with autism are behaviorally-based (Dawson, 2008, Sallows & Graupner, 2005), family-oriented (Schreibman, 2000, Odom & Wolery, 2003), focused on joint attention and language-learning (Kasari, Paparella, Freeman, & Jahromi, 2008) , and engage the child for at least 25 hours per week (Cohen, Amerine-Dickens, & Smith, 2006, National Research Council, 2001).


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