Working Intensely Early on May Help Autistic Kids

A step-by-step manual describing the approach is being published within the next month, Dawson said. The authors are also working on Web-based training materials and other ways to make the model more widely available, she said.

Keith A. Young, vice chairman for research in the psychiatry and behavioral science department at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, and chairman of the Tissue Advisory Board at Autism Speaks, described the study as a "critically important paper."

"It sets a benchmark for additional therapies that may come along," Young said. "This treatment was done in a very scientifically rigorous way and I think ... this is going to become the standard for what needs to be done to get these kids to function better."

"The magnitude of the learning that took place in the domains that are deficient in people with autism and, in particular, in expressive language and communication were really substantial and brought them up to a level where this is really going to improve their quality of life," he added.

Donna Murray, co-director of the Kelly O'Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said that the study "continues to support the idea that we need to be able to provide more intensive early intervention" for autism spectrum disorders.

"We do know there are studies suggesting that applied behavioral analysis [used in the Denver model] has positive outcomes in children with autism," Murray said. "This is a very nice study to support what we had sort of suspected."

A second study published at the same time in Pediatrics found that the anti-psychotic drug aripiprazole (Abilify) helped quell tantrums, aggression and other forms of irritability in 98 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. The study was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., which develop and market Abilify.

The drug is an antipsychotic more commonly used to treat schizophrenia and the mania associated with bipolar disorder.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on autism spectrum disorders.

SOURCES: Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., chief science officer, Autism Speaks; Donna Murray, Ph.D., co-director, Kelly O'Leary Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati; Keith A. Young, Ph.D., vice chairman, research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, Temple, Tex.; Nov. 30, 2009, Pediatrics, online

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