therapies and support

Early intervention

Early intervention

Early intervention is a term that means starting therapeutic interventions as soon as possible. For autism, early intervention means specialised support for young children.

Its aim is to promote the development of the child, helping them learn the skills that they need.

Early intervention for autism should start as soon as possible. For some children this might mean starting at 12 months old, for others it might be five years old. The main thing is to get started as soon as issues with development are noticed. A diagnosis is not required for early intervention support.

An early intervention program for a child with autism starts with a thorough assessment of the individual needs, strengths, interests of the child and any developmental delays. Then a highly individualised program is created. This may include therapies to support areas identified as important and meaningful to the child and family, with goals often around supporting social communication, emotional regulation, and motor skills. The developmental milestones which the child has not met are those that are prioritised.

The idea is to help a child to develop and learn as much as he or she is able to. Some children need less and less support as they grow older, others still have high support needs. The goal of early intervention is to support each child to develop to their full potential.

Choosing an early intervention program for your child with autism can be a very overwhelming and confusing process. Unlike other areas of childhood health, an autism diagnosis doesn’t come with a ready-prepared treatment plan and a network of health professionals to help implement it.

In most cases, it is up to parents or carers to do their own research and navigate their way through the multiple available options.

When choosing an early intervention program for your child, there are some important things to consider straight away:

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Does this therapy work? Has it been proven to be effective?
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Will it work for us? Will the therapy suit our own family’s needs?

What makes a great early intervention service

Here are some key points made by parents and carers about what to look for in an early intervention service:

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Must be evidence-based, meaning that is has been scientifically demonstrated to be effective

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Child-centred and developmentally appropriate

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Family-centred, working towards goals concerning the family

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Individualized to the child

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Assessments before starting, data then taken and progress measured

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Child-centred and developmentally appropriate

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Uses positive reinforcement

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Takes a strengths-based approach

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Ongoing professional development
of the team

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Regular meetings with family to track progress and problem solve

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Ensure that the child is able to practice and use new skills across many settings (e.g. home, school, community) not just in the therapy setting

… the most important quality that teachers and therapists should have, which transcends academic qualifications, is the ability to engage your child. The best therapists can look past the autism symptoms and see the child within; they will know how to laugh and play and have fun, but also how to impose discipline in a kind and consistent manner. Your child will really enjoy being with these people and learn best with them…
Quote from The Complete Autism Handbook

Understanding your early intervention options and what underpins many of these supports is critical to getting your child the type of support they need. We have developed a resource to assist you through this pathway. Come and find out more about early intervention at Autism: What Next?

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For a more detailed pathway through early intervention therapies click here to visit our dedicated resource Autism: What Next?

Helpful resources

“Early intervention for our daughter was life changing not only for her, but for the whole family unit. We have such a strong and compassionate team that feel like part of the family”