Study reveals long-term language benefits of early intensive behavioral intervention for autism

May 21, 2021

Recent findings suggest that early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) programs are a promising solution for improving language outcomes in children with autism.  

EIBI programs use the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to develop personalized intervention strategies and address the diverse challenges that individuals on the spectrum face.  

Children with autism often exhibit challenges in speech and social skills that can make learning and communication with others difficult. Previous studies showed that short-term use of EIBI techniques improves performances on language tests, however no study has explored if these effects on language are sustained over time.  

“The goal of our study was to explore how long-term EIBI programs affected language outcomes,” said Thomas W. Frazier, Ph.D., chief science officer at Autism Speaks. “A better understanding of how EIBI affects language development in autism ultimately allows for the provision of better care.” 

Frazier and his colleagues collected language measures from 131 children with an autism diagnosis when they entered the long-term EIBI program and 6, 12, 18, 24, and 36 months after, until they left the program.  

Children receiving EIBI showed substantial increases in language relative to those without. The researchers also found that younger the child started EIBI, the better their language skills were when they were older. Intervention at younger ages was also linked to better educational success. 

The researchers also found that the less severe the child’s autism symptoms were the larger the improvement in language throughout the course of therapy. The study suggested that EIBI programs may be more effective in some autism subgroups than others, such as those with lower autism severity scores and those with rapid improvements in language early in the course of the intervention. 

“Identifying the typical language trajectories of different autism subgroups could allow us to fine-tune interventions to give more personalized care,” said Dr. Frazier. “It will also be important to examine long-term outcomes of EIBI programs including improvements in cognitive ability, social skills, and success in school.” 

Collectively, these findings support the use of EIBI programs as an effective treatment for long-term language success in children with autism.