For the study, 48 children, 1½ to 2½ years old, with autism spectrum disorder were assigned either to the new Early Start Denver Model program or were placed in programs typically available in their communities.
The Denver Model "targets all areas of development so it's language, social behavior, motor skills, play, self-help skills, and the intervention is provided by trained paraprofessionals who work with the child one-on-one in the home for two two-hour sessions five days a week," Dawson explained. "Parents are also trained to carry out intervention strategies and to use those strategies in the context of bath time or at the dinner table or even at the playground."
"The strategies in this model are delivered in a very naturalistic, play-based and relationship-focused context rather than sitting the child down at a table and doing drills," she added. "It's just a slow process, sort of a labor of love, teaching kids step by step all these different skills."
Two years later, children in the Denver Model group had improved an average of 17.6 points on a standard scale of early-life learning, compared with a 7-point increase for the comparison group. The Denver Model children also had an average IQ increase of 15.4 points, compared with a 4.4-point increase for the others.
Children participating in the Denver Model program were also more likely to have their diagnosis changed from autism to pervasive developmental disorder, the study found.
A step-by-step manual describing the approach is being published within the next month, Dawson said. The authors are also working on Web-based training materials and other ways to make the model more widely available, she said.
Keith A. Young, vice chairman for research in the psychiatry and behavioral science department at Texas
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