CONTEXT:

Early intensive behavioral and developmental interventions for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) may enhance developmental outcomes.

OBJECTIVE:

To systematically review evidence regarding such interventions for children aged 12 and younger with ASDs.

METHODS:

We searched Medline, PsycINFO, and ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) from 2000 to May 2010. Two reviewers independently assessed studies against predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria. Two reviewers independently extracted data regarding participant and intervention characteristics, assessment techniques, and outcomes and assigned overall quality and strength-of-evidence ratings using predetermined criteria.

RESULTS:

Thirty-four unique studies met inclusion criteria. Seventeen studies were case series; 2 were randomized controlled trials. We rated 1 study as good quality, 10 as fair quality, and 23 as poor quality. The strength of the evidence overall ranged from insufficient to low. Studies of University of California Los Angeles/Lovaas–based interventions and variants reported clinically significant gains in language and cognitive skills in some children, as did 1 randomized controlled trial of an early intensive developmental intervention approach (the Early Start Denver Model). Specific parent-training approaches yielded gains in short-term language function and some challenging behaviors. Data suggest that subgroups of children displayed more prominent gains across studies, but participant characteristics associated with greater gains are not well understood.

CONCLUSIONS:

Studies of Lovaas-based approaches and early intensive behavioral intervention variants and the Early Start Denver Model resulted in some improvements in cognitive performance, language skills, and adaptive behavior skills in some young children with ASDs, although the literature is limited by methodologic concerns.

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