When it Comes to Autism – The Earlier the Diagnosis and Intervention the Better

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “stands behind its recommendation that all children be screened for ASD at ages 18 and 24 months” and states that “research shows that early intervention can considerably improve children’s long-term development and social behaviors.”  Brain plasticity is higher at early stages in life, which is why early diagnosis and intervention is so vital while the brain is more capable of absorbing information and changing.  The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states that “Individuals can learn and benefit from interventions and learning at any age, however, the earlier the better.” 

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development lists Applied Behavior Analysis among its recommended treatment methods for Autism Spectrum Disorder, “behavioral therapy is often based on applied behavior analysis (ABA), a widely accepted approach that tracks a child’s progress in improving his or her skills.” ABA  is a scientific approach to changing behavior through manipulating environmental factors.  ABA increases and teaches socially acceptable behaviors such as: communication and language (length of conversation, requesting, “wh” questions, articulation, etc); social and play skills (initiation, greetings, turn taking, etc.); self-help skills (toileting, feeding, hair and tooth-brushing, etc.); compliance and cooperation (waiting, coming when called, etc.);  and adaptive life skills.  ABA also works on decreasing socially unacceptable and unsafe behaviors such as: tantrum behaviors, elopement (leaving an area without permission, could include wandering or running from an assigned area or away from parent/caregiver), aggression, and self injurious behaviors (pulling own hair, biting or hitting self, etc.).

For years, researchers have shown that ABA has assisted children diagnosed with Autism in making strides in communication, behavior, cooperation and compliance skills, self-help,  and social skills, etc.  According to a journal article  in Behavior Modification, “Investigators have suggested that, to achieve the best possible outcomes, children with autism should begin intensive behavioral treatment as early as possible, preferably before the age of 4 years” (Green, 1996).  In 1985, Franske, Zalenski, Krantz, and McClannahan conducted a study on 9 children with autism who began behavioral treatment prior to age 5 and 9 children with autism who began behavioral treatment after the age of 5 and according to the same article, concluded that “the outcomes of the younger children were more favorable than those of the older children.” The same article stated that “Harris and Handleman (2000) found that children who began treatment prior to the age of 4 years made larger gains than those who began treatment after this age.” (Eikeseth, Smith, Jahr, Eldevik 2002).  Aside from neural plasticity, ABA may have greater success with younger children because socially inappropriate and dangerous behaviors in older children may have a longer and stronger reinforcement history than those of younger children.  The taught skills are also utilized as replacement behaviors for the socially un-acceptable, dangerous behaviors.  ABA also utilizes the individual’s strengths and preferences for skill building and behavior reduction.  ABA utilizes differential reinforcement to reinforce the desired and not reinforce the undesired.

Applied Behavior Analysis is what we do here at Paragon Autism Services.   We utilize individualized assessments and research driven interventions such as positive reinforcement to increase communication/language skills, social skills and play skills, adaptive life skills, self-help skills, and generalization while working on reducing unsafe behaviors such as aggression, elopement, self-injury, and non-compliance. At Paragon, we pride ourselves on  our number of Board Certified and licensed staff (4 BCBA/LBA; 8 BCaBA/LaBA),  our hard-earned reputation, our team approach, our parent/caregiver training, our collaboration with other providers and school personnel while providing educational advocacy, and our free monthly outreach programs.   If you have any questions about early intervention or how ABA or Paragon can help your child, please feel free to contact our office at 540-479-3889.