ABA based early intervention is a therapy program for preschool children with an autism spectrum disorder. An early intervention is a comprehensive treatment, which targets the areas of language, communication, interaction, play, social skills, behavior regulation, self-help skills, preschool skills, cognitive and motor skills. In collaboration with the parents and other caregivers in the child’s life, we determine the individual goals for the child and set up the treatment plan accordingly.
Neurotypical children automatically use every waking moment to learn new skills. Early intervention aims to support the child with autism in doing the same: Its goal is to help the child utilize as much of their awake time as possible to learn new skills at every possible moment. The instructions can be provided by the parents in everyday life or by a team of ABA therapists in structured therapy sessions, or by trained personnel in a play group, daycare or kindergarten setting.
An individualized approach tailoring the goals and the instruction practice to the needs of each child individually, is paramount for the success of an early intervention. Every child learns differently. And children with autism oftentimes have more difficulties learning new skills due to their autism symptoms. Thus, it takes a diligent analysis of how a particular child can learn best and fastest, and a subsequent adaption of instruction to the child’s profile.
An ABA based early intervention is most effective when:
- The treatment starts early, i.e. at a young age.
- The treatment is intensive (more than 20 hours a week).
- The parents are involved in the treatment.
- The treatment is based on ABA principles.
- The treatment is individualized.
- The treatment is implemented consistently, i.e. everyone in the child’s life supports it.
- The treatment is delivered 1:1.
There are several therapy models ranging in intensity. Basically, the more intense the treatment, the more effective the outcome. However, we always need to find the intensity that fits best for a particular family. This is dependent upon the energy level of the child, the structure of a family’s daily life, as well as on financial limitations.
The following lists 3 examples of possible therapy models:
Model 1: Parents in everyday life
The parents work with the child in their daily life. A supervisor trains them how to teach the child in naturally occurring situations.
Model 2: Parents as therapists
The parents run 1:1 therapy sessions with the child for at least 5 hours a week. Additionally, they work with their child in daily life. The parents are trained by a supervisor to run a therapy session and receive written therapy programs and data sheets.
Modell 3: Intensive early intervention run by a team of therapists
The parents employ therapists who will run 1:1 therapy sessions with the child. The supervisor teaches the therapists and provides them with written therapy programs and data sheets. The intensive early intervention varies in intensity, depending how many therapy hours are conducted by the therapists. The intensive early intervention model is often combined with either model 1 or 2. This increases the effectiveness of the therapy as the skills the child is taught by the therapists will also be trained and generalized in everyday life by the parents.
Theoretically every combination of hours delivered by therapists and hours done by parents is possible. The number of therapy sessions, their duration as well as start can be adapted to best suit the child and the family situation.
To ensure a thorough, proper and effective supervision of any early intervention model, it is recommended that 5% of therapy hours are supervised, i.e. 1 hour per 20 hours of therapy should be supervised by an ABA professional.
Usually, the therapists are students of psychology or educational science. Either the supervisor or the parents are in charge of finding the therapists, who will then be employed by the parents.
High intensity early intervention usually runs for approximately 2 years prior to the start of kindergarten or parallel to the first year of kindergarten. Many families continue the therapy for a couple of years after that with a reduced intensity, e.g. 1 therapist conducting therapy sessions on 1-2 afternoons as week or as a parent-as-therapists-model. The goal of any intensive early intervention is to teach the child the skills they need to be able to learn in a less structured setting, e.g. kindergarten.