British study: autistic children who receive intensive tutoring when very young 'show dramatic increases in IQ'|
SOUTHAMPTON, UK: Autistic children who receive intensive one-to-one tutoring for two years when very young have shown dramatic increases in IQ levels which can allow them to go to mainstream schools, according to British research published on April 25.
A two-year British study into the impact of early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) found that some toddlers on the programme jumped 40 IQ points. A quarter showed "very substantial improvements," and none regressed.
The youngsters also showed more advanced language and better daily living skills than similar children in a control group who received standard educational support such as speech therapy. There were also improvements to their motor and social skills and early social communication.
The findings of the research, which was conducted by a team from the University of Southampton, were welcomed by autism charities. The results are likely to be seized on by parents of children with autism, which is on the rise.
According to Research Autism - one of the charities funding the study and the provider of a new website evaluating different therapies and interventions - the condition now affects one in 100 children.
As well as struggling to cope with the demands of the condition, many parents also have to fight for informed help and support, including access to a suitably equipped school.
Under EIBI, parents undergo training and work with specialist staff to teach their children in their own homes for 25 hours a week. The teaching programme - which begins at around two and a half and lasts for two years - is tailored to each child's needs and abilities. As children make progress, they receive constant praise and rewards for their successes.
Bob Remington, one of the co-authors of the research, said the teaching could lead to "major change."
Three-quarters of the 23 children receiving EIBI were able to go to mainstream school, compared with half of the 21 receiving other therapies. As well as following the 44 children over two years, the study also assessed their parents to identify whether the programme increased the stress they experienced.
In another key finding, the parents showed no more stress than those in the control group, despite the high level of input they were required to provide.
Professor Remington said: "Twenty-five hours' home therapy a week is a big commitment for children and parents alike. In fact most parents took this in their stride."
EIBI was developed in America 20 years ago and US studies have also produced positive results. The Southampton research is the first comprehensive study in Britain, where the therapy is available only in some areas. Some local authorities are reluctant to fund the £20,000-£30,000 a year cost per child involved. However, the researchers argue that effective early intervention can reduce the costs of lifetime care for a person with autism - estimated at £2.9m.
The British Work and Pensions minister, John Hutton, speaking at the launch of the research, said the estimated £5bn annual
cost of autism in Britain was a "conservative" figure. People with the condition were often unable to work in jobs that
fulfilled their potential, he said, calling for more research into effective early interventions.
The findings mean that autistic toddlers can go to mainstream primary schools at five with a much better chance of learning and coping, and can subsequently lead fuller adult lives.
The study, by the charity Research Autism, found that one child moved from an IQ of 30 to 70 after intensive teaching. Another's IQ increased from 72 to 115. Most of the UK population has an IQ of between 85 and 115.
The intensive teaching consists of about 25 hours a week at home supervised by specialist behavioural consultants. It helps children to improve their eye contact and concentration as well as their ability to copy words or actions.
The findings will be warmly welcomed by parents, many of whom spend £30,000 a year on such tutoring. Alison Pittam, 39, from south London, paid £35,000 in just one year for her son, Rufus, to receive a recommended type of home tutoring. She said many parents had remortgaged their homes and sold their cars to raise the money.Some cannot even get an official diagnosis of autism for their child, as NHS waiting-lists can be two years long.
Mrs Pittam said: "Rufus had been going to a nursery part-time for a year, but he might as well have sat in his bedroom. It meant nothing to him."
She came across Applied Behavioural Analysis, an intensive tutoring programme for autistic children, when Rufus was three and a half. She and her husband Julian, 38, have since won a tribunal, meaning the bill is picked up by Lambeth Education Authority.
Rufus, five, now goes to primary school and "chats away, talks to his grandparents on the phone, negotiates with other children, shares their interests," Mrs Pittam said.
Parents of autistic children argue that, while the short-term costs to the local authority are high, this should be offset by the fact that it will not need to provide residential care or intensive mental health services in the long term.
Professor Richard Hastings, from the School of Psychology at Bangor University in Wales, was another leading member of the research term. In North Wales, the techniques that are a part of EIBI are now being applied with children with autism in a unit attached to a mainstream school. The project at Westwood School in Buckley was recently evaluated as an outstanding educational provision by Estyn and is led by Flintshire and Wrexham Local Education authorities with Bangor University, and in collaboration with the Wrexham and Flintshire Local Health Boards and the North East Wales NHS Trust.
"The results of our EIBI research are very encouraging, and we wanted to expand the application of the intervention techniques within a school setting," said Professor Hastings. "EIBI techniques are well-suited to the classroom, and can be used to support access to the National Curriculum for children with autism. We believe that carrying out these interventions in a mainstream school setting also has considerable advantages, especially because of the opportunities to develop communication skills, social relationships and integration into the full life of the school. We are delighted that the Estyn inspection team gave the project such a strong endorsement."
Britain's National Autistic Society cautiously welcomed the study. A spokesperson said: "As the nature of autism is so complex, many interventions have been developed over the years and many competing claims made for their effectiveness, while few interventions have been independently or scientifically evaluated. Quality evaluation of any therapy requires more than one study. It is vital that people affected by autism have access to reliable information about approaches which may meet their individual needs."
(Sources: The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, News Wales, BBC News Online, April 26, 2007)