Often misunderstood and still shrouded in mystery, autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental disability that affects a wide array of functions and abilities, including verbal and nonverbal communication, behavior, and thought patterns. Symptoms of autism can manifest at as early as 12 months of age; most parents notice symptoms at around 2 years of age. Issues related to autism spectrum disorder can vary vastly depending on where an individual falls along the spectrum; individuals across the spectrum might have trouble with adaptive behavior, but the extent to which the inability to adapt behavior impacts the daily life of an autistic individual will vary.
Early Intervention Treatments
Though there is no “cure” for autism, so to speak, there are positive signs that early behavioral intervention can mitigate risk of maladaptive socialization later in life.
One such early intervention was a treatment lasting 20-40 hours per week for 2-3 years. Though the study was limited to a small group of children, which complicates the conclusiveness and breadth of the ensuing results, there were very positive long-term effects from this early intervention. This study, which applied EIBI, or Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention, was structured around the formation of one-on-one adult-to-child relationships, individualized to the needs and skills of each child. A behavioral therapist was paired with a child and their parents in order to hit a series of developmental goalposts while observing the improving efficacy of pro-social behaviors, including verbal and nonverbal communication, interactive ability, and complex task management. The resulting research concluded that young children and toddlers were able to transcend expected difficulties across the board, maximizing pro-social behavior and minimizing previously expected behavioral difficulties.
Applied Behavior Analysis
Another system of behavioral improvement for young autistic individuals, Applied Behavior Analysis is a practice predicated upon measurable, quantifiable metrics of achievement in learning pedagogy and behavioral analysis.
Applied Behavior Analysis focuses on the capacity for developmental socialization in categories such as task-oriented behavior, social interaction, impulse control, self-awareness and self-actualization, applying one specific behavior in similar situations, and reduction of harmful, interruptive, or intrusive behaviors and thought patterns.
The studies in which Applied Behavior Analysis has been rigorously tested have borne out positive results in the improvement of destructive behaviors and the development of disciplined skill building. When applied for over 20 hours per week and before 4 years of age, Applied Behavior Analysis is particularly effective at stemming off the reinforcement of antisocial and maladaptive behavioral patterns; this, in turn, leads to less reliance on special accommodations as autistic children grow up, which takes the strain off of programs catering to autistic children, adolescents, and adults while providing autistic individuals with the tools to navigate life with greater ease and range of adaptative behavioral abilities.
While there are few proven and time-tested treatments to guarantee a holistically effective socialization of young autistic individuals, new scientific research through behavioral programs has yielded promising results for both autistic children and their parents.