Meta-Analysis of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Children with Autism

Eldevik, S., Hastings, R.P., Hughes, J.C., Erik, J., Svein, E., & Cross, S. (2009). Meta-Analysis of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for Children with Autism. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 38 (3), 439-450.

Reviewed by Amy Hansford, MS
Rutgers University

Why study this topic?

Several studies indicate that early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) is effective for accelerating development and improving symptoms of autism. One approach to evaluating the literature as a whole is to conduct a meta-analysis, which is a statistical method for integrating results from individual studies. Meta-analyses can be useful for obtaining an overall estimate of whether or not EIBI is effective and, if so, what the size of the benefits are.

What did the researchers do?

The authors aimed to both replicate and improve a meta-analysis conducted by Reichow and Wolery (2009) on EIBI by strengthening the criteria needed for an article’s inclusion in the analysis. For example, unlike Reichow and Wolery (2009), the authors confined their review to studies that compared EIBI to a control or comparison group, used only full-scale IQ results, and evaluated changes in adaptive behavior.

The authors searched the literature and found 34 studies on EIBI in children with autism. Nine of these studies met criteria for inclusion in the meta-analysis.

What did the researchers find?

Overall, the researchers found consistent improvement in both IQ and adaptive behaviors in children receiving EIBI. The benefits seen in IQ were considered statistically “large,” while adaptive skills improvements were “moderate.” They obtained a higher estimate of IQ gains than did Reichow and Wolery (2009) and attributed this difference to the improved methodology of their review.

However, they also identified scientific weaknesses of the EIBI research, particularly the small number of studies comparing EIBI to an alternative intervention and the absence of random assignment of children to EIBI or the alternative intervention in most of those studies.

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

Overall, the researchers concluded that EIBI improves IQ and adaptive skills in children with autism spectrum disorders, compared to those receiving no intervention or individualized, diverse treatments. However, while these results seem promising, the lack of well-controlled studies highlights the need to evaluate this intervention more thoroughly.