Interventions for children with autism: what works?

This systematic review from the Campbell Collaboration examines research on the effectiveness of early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) in increasing the functional behaviours and skills of young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The core elements of EIBI, which is one of the better-established treatments for ASD, involve (a) a specific teaching procedure referred to as discrete trial training, (b) the use of a 1:1 adult-to-child ratio in the early stages of the treatment, and (c) implementation in either home or school settings for a range of 20 to 40 hours per week across one to four years of the child’s life.

The researchers looked for randomised controlled trials (RCTs), quasi-randomised controlled trials, and clinical controlled trials (CCTs) in which EIBI was compared to a no-treatment or treatment-as-usual control condition. Another criterion was that study participants needed to be less than six years of age at treatment onset and assigned to their study condition prior to commencing treatment. One RCT and four CCTs with a total of 203 participants met the criteria and were included in the review.

After analysing the research, the authors concluded that there is some evidence that EIBI is an effective behavioural treatment for some children with ASD. However, they say that additional studies using RCT research designs are needed to make stronger conclusions.

Source: Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD): a systematic review (2015), The Campbell Library.

What works in the early years?

This synthesis of research from the US Institute of Education Sciences (IES) describes what has been learned from IES-funded research grants on early intervention and early childhood education. Their findings include the following:

  • There are critical associations between features of pre-kindergarten (Reception) classrooms – such as the quality of teacher–child interactions and the nature of teachers’ feedback to children – and children’s outcomes. For instance, the extent to which teachers are observed providing emotional support to children in their classroom is positively associated with children’s growth in social competence.
  • Parents’ and teachers’ support for children’s learning contributes to young children’s outcomes. As an example, one study showed that the extent to which parents were involved in their children’s schooling and their perceptions about their children’s teacher were related to their children’s academic and social competence.
  • Classroom teaching can be improved by providing professional development to teachers. Improvements may be seen in general measures of the teaching environment or in more specific ways, such as teachers’ use of assessment data to design individual teaching plans.

Additional findings are discussed in the full report.

Source: Synthesis of IES Research on Early Intervention and Early Childhood Education (2013), Institute of Education Sciences.

The costs and benefits of education interventions

A new series of publications aims to provide independent investment advice for children’s services. Launched last Friday Investing in Children, from the Social Research Unit at Dartington, will publish reports on the effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness, of programmes and approaches. The reports look at the financial costs of particular interventions, the financial benefits to taxpayers and participants, and the risk that an approach might not be successful. The first two reports look at interventions for early years and education, and youth justice. In the early years and education report, programmes rated include Reading Recovery, Success for All and Life Skills Training.

Source: Investing in Children

Invest early, but use evidence

Researchers from the NFER have been looking at early intervention, that is, approaches delivered “early in the life of a problem, or when children are younger”. This study, which is the fourth in a series for the Local Government Association, found that such approaches can have greater benefits in the long term and therefore be more cost effective.

But it highlighted the need for programmes to be evidence-based, and for these to be delivered with fidelity to the programme’s design. The authors emphasise that more work is needed to improve the evidence that is available, especially information about cost-effectiveness. Meanwhile, the Department for Education has announced the next steps in the creation of the Early Intervention Foundation, which will provide advice and support on issues relating to early intervention.

Source: Early intervention: informing local practise (2012), National Foundation for Educational Research

Developing a business case for early interventions

The National Foundation for Education Research (NFER) has published a guide to developing a business case for early interventions (the practices and programmes that help to give children aged 0–3 the social and emotional foundations they need). Commissioned by the Local Government Association, the guidance includes:

  • How to make a business case for early interventions
  • How to make an economic case for early interventions
  • The key considerations in evaluating the value for money of early interventions.

Source: Developing a business case for early interventions and evaluating their value for money (2011), National Foundation for Educational Research