Comprehensive Synthesis of Early Intensive Behavioral Interventions for Young Children with Autism Based on the UCLA Young Autism Project Model

Reichow, B., & Wolery, M. (2009). Comprehensive synthesis of early intensive behavioral interventions for young children with autism based on the UCLA young autism project model. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 23-41.

Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, MA
Caldwell College

Why this topic?

Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) begins in the preschool years and involves up to 40 hours per week of applied behavior analytic (ABA) intervention for 2 years or more. This review provided a comprehensive synthesis of studies evaluating EIBI.

What did the researchers do?

Thirteen EIBI studies were analyzed, including a total of 373 children diagnosed with autism, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), or pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). Of the participants, 251 received EIBI and 121 were in non-EIBI comparison groups. Treatment was provided for an average of 30 hours a week and lasted an average of 12-48 months. Treatment primarily took place in the home and included training staff and parents.

What did the researchers find?

Overall, the data indicate that EIBI is an effective treatment for children with autism. Results show academic placement, diagnostic reclassification, and fewer or less severe autistic symptoms after intervention. The average child in EIBI made larger gains in IQ than about 75% of children who did not receive EIBI. In the 9 studies that assessed classroom placement, approximately 65% of participants receiving EIBI were placed in a regular education classroom. In 10 of the 13 studies, participants displayed less severe autistic symptoms after intervention. In 7 of the 13 studies, 31 of 172 participants receiving EIBI met criteria for diagnostic reclassification. The review also indicated that more hours of treatment may lead to more positive outcomes, particularly gains in IQ.

What were the strengths and limitations of the study? What do the results mean?

The evidence suggests that EIBI is effective for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. However, the authors noted that, because of limitations in the available studies, many gaps in knowledge remain. These limitations include the small number of children in the studies, narrow criteria for selecting children to include in the studies, and non-random assignment of children to EIBI or non-EIBI groups. One large limitation is that few studies have compared the effectiveness of EIBI to other empirically validated treatments, and such comparisons should be targeted for future research.