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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


The Earlier the Better: Interventions that Benefit Children with Autism

Early intervention and a coordinated program of instructional strategies are key to progress for children with autism spectrum disorders according to a recent OSEP-funded study by the National Research Council, headed by Catherine Lord, professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago. The study committee was charged with creating a framework for evaluating research results on the effects and features of educational interventions for young children with autism.

The committee reports that there is a general consensus in treatment programs about what services are essential to a successful intervention, some of which are

  • entry into an intervention program as soon as the child is suspected of having an autistic spectrum disorder,
  • intensive educational programming for at least 25 hours a week, year round, in which the child moves toward identified objectives,
  • functional spontaneous communication,
  • social instruction delivered throughout the day in various settings,
  • cognitive development and play skills, and
  • proactive approaches to behavior problems.

The committee also recommends that "young children with an autistic spectrum disorder should receive specialized instruction in a setting in which ongoing interactions occur with typically developing children." The study also surveyed the research and reported on instructional strategies that have proven successful for children with autism, strategies that modify behavior, build new developmental skills, or increase the ability of the student to communicate. Other successful techniques include a mix of individual and group instruction and the use of typical students as peers to elicit social, play, and communicative responses from young children with autism.

The full report of the committee is available online from the National Academy Press web site at: http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10017.html. A paper copy of the same report can be ordered via that same link.

The study was funded by the Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant #H324F980001; Jim McGee, project director) and the Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism was formed by the National Research Council. Catherine Lord directed the committee. Additional information about the report can be found at the National Academies Web site: http://www4.nationalacademies.org.


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Last updated: December 13, 2001

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