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Why is early intervention so important?

Autism affects 1 in 70 people in Australia. There is no known cause nor a 'cure', but research shows early intervention makes a significant difference to a child’s development leading to improved outcomes for children with autism, including increased social, communication and daily living skills (Boyd et al., 2014; Magiati, Tay, & Howlin, 2012; Prior, Roberts, Roger, & Williams, 2011; Warren et al., 2011).

In fact, a major report informed by AEIOU and NDIS data proves, with intensive early intervention, children make significant gains towards their development goals, at rates over and above what is expected for a typically developing child (released March 2023).

What should early intervention look like?

Early intervention must be evidence-informed, individualised to the child and offer support for the whole family unit.

Key elements of best-practice early intervention are documented as part of the Australian Guidelines for Good Practice(Prior & Roberts, 2012) lead to positive outcomes for children with ASD. At AEIOU, the each child's specific strategies are informed by this evidence (Wong et al., 2014), and draws from established models such as the Early Start Denver Model, VB MAPP, and the science of Applied Behaviour Analysis.

We have evaluated the outcomes of the AEIOU program and found:

  • Increases in communication skills (Paynter, Scott, Beamish, Duhig, & Heussler, 2012),
  • Increases in cognitive skills (Vivanti, Paynter, Duncan, Fothergill, Dissanayake, & Rogers, 2014)
  • Increases in daily living skills (Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales data), including independence and toilet training
  • Without early intervention, around 24% of children diagnosed with ASD regress in their verbal skills (Landa, Stuart, Gross, and Faherty, 2012). Compared with current data, regression rates of children who attend AEIOU are just 1.15%.

Our Research & Assessment team continue to conduct research to further evaluate and improve outcomes for the children we support.

Does early intervention have a lasting impact?

Young children with autism who receive quality early intervention have a much greater chance of developing meaningful and lasting friendships and relationships and, later in life, of living independently and securing employment, with long-term research showing benefits for children as they grow and develop (Howlin, 1997).

According to a 2023 report by Synergies Economic Consulting, every dollar invested into early intervention therapy and specialised education for children with autism saves society $6.16, with a direct cost saving of $4.58 to the NDIS.

Consider the costs of informal care and impacts to quality of life for autistic individuals and their families who are unable to access best-practice supports. On a macro level, healthcare, social services and education incur significant expenditures related to autism. That’s a saving of $297,000 over one child’s lifetime – or $89.1 million over the lifetime of just one AEIOU graduating class (approximately 300 children).

If you would like to read more about early intervention from a quality, reputable source, a good place to start is the Raising Children's Network.

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