Sunday, May 06, 2007

New Study Confirms EIBI Results in IQ Gains for Autistic Children

Yet another study has demonstrated the effectiveness of intensive early behavioural internvetion as both an educational AND a healh care intervention for autistic children, with signficant IQ gains for young autistic children who received intensive behavioural intervention. This study will make no difference to the mindsets of the anti-ABA crowd which is as vehement in their opposition to ABA as the mercury-vaccine causes autism crowd are in their opposition to "Big Pharma". For parents of newly diagnosed autistic children though it will be important information for them to be aware of as they decide how to respond to their children's autism.

Date: May 6, 2007

Science Daily — Intensive intervention given to toddlers with autism as young as three years old can significantly raise IQ levels, potentially allowing them to benefit from mainstream education, new research has revealed.

Researchers at the University of Southampton, led by Professor Bob Remington of the School of Psychology and Professor Richard Hastings (now at Bangor University), undertook a study into the impact of two years of Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI).

The results of the Southampton Childhood Autism programme (SCAmP) show that a group of children who received two years of intensive tutoring - or early intervention - had higher IQs, more advanced language and better daily living skills than similar children receiving standard educational provision.

IQ increased for two thirds of the children receiving the early intervention and 'very substantially' for more than a quarter of them. For example one child moved from an IQ of 30 up to 70; another from an IQ of 72 to 115. Most of the population of the UK has an IQ of between 85 and 115.

In what was a 'tough test' into whether EIBI could prove beneficial, specially trained staff and parents taught children with autism a wide range of skills in their own homes for 25 hours a week. Teaching was individualised to take full advantage of each child's abilities and focus on areas of need; each lesson was carefully broken down into easy steps and children received constant praise and other rewards for their successes.

'This form of teaching can, in many cases, lead to major change and enhance the life chances of children with autism,' said Professor Remington. 'In practice, the positive changes we see in IQ, language and daily living skills can make a real difference to the future lives of children with autism.

'But those embarking on EIBI should prepare for some hard work. Twenty five hours of home therapy a week is a big commitment for children and parents alike. Before the research began we wondered if such intensive work would increase the emotional and psychological demands of childrearing, as teaching basic skills needs a lot of dedication and patience and family organisation has to adapt to the ever-present home tutors.

'In fact most parents took this in their stride. The reasons are clear. It's harder to be helpless than it is to get involved in teaching, and in most cases our parents saw rapid improvements in their children's skills and behaviour.'

An estimated 535,000 people in the UK are living with a condition on the autism spectrum.

The SCAmP team is embarking on a follow-up study with those children who took part in the research to establish how long-lasting the effects of the treatment are and how benefits can be extended.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University Of Southampton.


Maya M said...

While thinking that behavioral methods could be useful for teaching skills to autistic children, I am very skeptical that they could make the children more high-functioning. I think that the most you can achieve by ABA is to increase the registered IQ scores of some children by making them more compliant.
I'd wish to see the real thing, i.e. the article published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The press release doesn't include key data such as the number of children in the experimental and the control group and the mean IQ and its dispersion at the beginning and the end of the study in both groups. Two cases of dramatic IQ increase (out of how many?) don't mean much. This could be due to anything, including initial misdiagnosis, although it is more likely that these children had no interest in the entry IQ test and this led to gross underestimation of their initial IQs.
I understand my point is weak - these researchers present data, I try to rebut them by mere speculation. Well, I have nowhere to dig data from. But my common sense strongly disagrees that cognitive abilities can be influenced by behavioural modifications. It seems akin to the advice of some self-help books to put a false smile on your face so that to feel better (again, an attempt to influence by behaviour what is going on in the brain - this time emotions, not cognition). A false smile is relevant when making a photo or negotiating with people I hate, but it doesn't make me happier at all.
If ABA is so efficient in boosting IQ, we can only wonder why it is not tried on mentally retarded children without autism. I guess it is because autism, not mental retardation, is a hot topic today, and scientists, if not funding themselves, are forced to get out of their skins to appease research-funding institutions.

Unknown said...


I agree it is necessary to see the actual study as reported in a journal. My comment though is aimed at the fact that there have been many studies showing gains for autistic children as a result of ABA. Each study will be dissected to the point of absurdity by those who oppose the use of ABA on emotional or ideological grounds. The fact that study after study shows gains by way of ABA use for autistic children will itself be ignored by anti-ABA diehards.

Maya M said...

I didn't intend to add a second comment on this thread, but after reading your open letter to the Prime Minister, I wish to put another (indecently long) twopence here.
As I wrote before, I am not against ABA and think it can be very useful for autistic children. But I think that we parents of autistic children cannot rely on anybody, other than ourselves, to act in our children's interests. Other people have their own agendas and interests which may or may not coincide with what is best for our children. Promoting ABA as not only the best teaching method but the one children cannot do without, and practising it for long hours all the year, means good social status, more jobs etc. for ABA experts. But is it best for the children?
Many scientists agree that problems in processing sensory information, and as a consequence problems in developing speech and/or other means of communication, are the underlying deficits in autism. ABA therapist Janna Hoskin thinks that as soon as a child is diagnosed, his sensory issues should be dealt with, followed by finding an effective communication method. Only then an ABA program should begin. Most other ABA proponents, however, prefer to start an ABA program right away. They "forget" the sensory problems, and as for the communication, rely on ABA to develop speech.
Speech, similarly to sitting and walking, normally develops spontaneously. Very little is known about how to help speech develop when there is a problem, as in autistic children. It is clear that ABA can help only if the speech centers in the brain are ready to work anyway. And even then it is unclear how effective the method is for this purpose. However, I know from my relation in the USA that ABA is used there exactly for development of speech.
Months ago when my son was saying only several words and only rarely, my husband tried some do-it-yourself ABA, as you did with Conor and the apple. When my son was screaming and pointing to the place where we keep candies, my husband said, "Say "candy" and I'll give you some". He was very surprised when I informed him he was using the only scientifically proven method to teach autistic children.
Well, the child said "candy" once, but the approach wasn't terribly effective. My son didn't get the idea of the positive reinforcement (that he would receive a candy), what he got was that the candy was being refused to him. So he just would throw a tantrum. Much more effective were the vocabulary-building movies of his favourite Baby TV channel. He picked words from there, repeated them and then used them appropriately (I knew they were from that source because they were in English).
If a third party with a young autistic child is reading this - I'm not giving advice to take a big bag and fill it with such movies. They worked for my child, I don't know about other children, and I don't know whether without the movies my son wouldn't pick the same number of words from other sources. My point is that there may be educational tools and methods more efficient than ABA e.g. for developing speech, but their proponents haven't done the necessary research and aren't so active and successful as ABA proponents. It is understandable (though not in the best interest of autistic children) that experts practising different methods compete, each one trying to prove that his method is the best for everything. In this competition, ABA experts are most successful. Time and again, they prove that 25 - 40 - 60 hours per week of ABA are very useful. But a child receiving ABA for significantly more than 10-15 hours per week for the whole year will not only have little time for play and rest. He will be effectively prevented from receiving any other kind of teaching or therapy. No time to watch Baby TV!
Of course parents of children enrolled in an ABA program will say that it has helped their children talk. But if your child is in a program, you actually cannot say what the program has done and what is spontaneous progress. Saying that something is an achievement of the program means drawing a conclusion about causal relationship merely from the position of two events in time - the same logical trap that makes some parents believe that MMR has caused their child'a autism and others to claim to have cured their children by diet or chelation. Only a controlled scientific study can access the effectiveness of the method. Therefore, I am not happy at all when I see scientists announcing in public and not at a scientific congress (where their expert opponents will scrutinize them) logic-defying reports of ABA improving IQ. They don't say how many children in the control group showed improved IQ scores, they don't say "The best registered IQ improvement in the control group was (e.g.) 12 points." Most importantly, they don't say in which journal this study, which evidently isn't yet published, is accepted for publication. Which makes me suspect that (1) it's still pending peer review and (2) one of the aims of the news release is to "condition" those who will review it. Such behaviour of ABA proponents can discredit the method in my eyes more than the most fierce attacks by its critics.

Unknown said...

Maya M

Your 2nd comment really reflects an emotional antipathy towareds ABA but your arguments are not sound.

You said:

"Of course parents of children enrolled in an ABA program will say that it has helped their children talk. But if your child is in a program, you actually cannot say what the program has done and what is spontaneous progress."

That statement is very weak. There is no evidence or theory whatsoever to endorse a "spontaneous progress" explanation for gains made by autisic children receiving ABA interventions. Some studies have compared ABA and eclectic methods and the ABA receiving students made substantially greater gains than the students who received eclectic delivered services.

Spontaneous progress is really an unsound, non evidence based, emotional rationalization for the progress demonstrated in hundreds of studies by autistic children who received ABA treatment.

As for your husband's attempt at ABA I will make no comment on that individual case. I can say that my son made great gains with ABA and use of ABA enabled us to communicate with him, modify dangerous self injurious behaviour, toilet train him, and teach him various life skills, including reading. Our experience is consistent with the hundreds of professional studies confirming the efficacy of ABA as an effective intervention with autistic children.