A landmark report has been released looking at the impact of early intervention on children on the autism spectrum.
The report, Interventions for children on the autism spectrum: A synthesis of research evidence, shows that early intervention can play an important part in promoting learning and participation in everyday life activities. It also gives an overview of different interventions and looks at the scientific evidence of these options.
According to dedicated autism research centre Autism CRC, the report is critical because it provides families and clinicians with the best opportunity to make informed decisions when choosing interventions.
The research project was compiled by some of Australia’s leading autism experts, covering lived experience, research and clinical fields.
“We’re all born with all sorts of abilities and challenges. People on the spectrum are often born with some aspects that can hinder their development, their ability to reach their full potential and ability to be active participants in our society,” says Project Chair, Professor Andrew Whitehouse.
“There is good evidence showing that providing support early on is our ‘best bang for buck’ in terms of reducing lifelong disability and discovering someone’s strengths and nurturing these.”
Professor Whitehouse says providing and understanding the different types of interventions leads to educated and informed consumers.
“There are dozens if not hundreds of interventions or types of supports for children on the spectrum and it can seem like this sort of fog,” he says.
“When we’re making decisions about how we as parents, caregivers, and clinicians can support people on the spectrum, at the moment we don’t have any clear way in which we can make decisions or build a framework.”
Professor Whitehouse says he was surprised by the lack of evidence on the things that are “assumed to be true.”
“For example, one assumption is that more intervention is likely to deliver better outcomes for kids on the spectrum, but we couldn't find evidence to support that,” he says.
“So I think the report leads us to question a number of things and confirms that we have to use evidence to drive our decisions. While we certainly know a lot, there are definitely gaps in knowledge and in quality of research.”
“Autism is upwards of 30 percent of all participants within the NDIS. So if we can get Autism policy right, we can get a lot right.”
The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) welcomed the report stating it will assist the NDIA in continuing to adopt the best approaches for young people with autism.
“There are more than 120,000 Australians with autism that are being supported by the NDIS, and more than 8,000 children receiving supports through the Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach,” says NDIA spokesperson Shannon Rees.
“We know how important quality, evidence-informed early intervention is for supporting child development and independence, and it’s important to ensure the right interventions are in place.
She adds that it is vital that the Agency continues to conduct important research like this, to help inform the agency's decisions going forward as well as assist children and their families to choose interventions that are more likely to have a positive effect for their child and positively impact family outcomes.
“The release of this report is an important step in improving participant experience and early intervention support for children on the autism spectrum in the NDIS,” Ms Rees adds.
The NDIA has announced it will summarise the findings of the review in a discussion paper before extensive consultation with participants, families and the autism and early childhood development sectors.
To find the full report head to the Autism CRC website.