New light on autism treatment

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Early intensive education can help children with autistic disorders, according to a new review of recent research.

But there is no strong evidence that one approach is better than another for a particular child.

The literature review - carried out by Rita Jordan, Glenys Jones and Dinah Murray, of Birmingham University and published by the Department for Education and Employment - will provide a starting point for a major new research project.

The #163;115,000 project, funded by the Local Government Association, aims to plug the gaps in current research and identify the most effective educational interventions for autistic children.

The review says research has consistently shown that early intervention is effective with autistic children, and the LGA project will focus on the early years and key stage 1.

But the evidence on the effectiveness of the various educational approaches to autism - including well-known methods such as TEACCH (treatment and education of autistic and related communications handicapped children) and the "daily life" therapy practised at the Boston Higashi School - is not conclusive.

"There is no really strong evidence to suggest that one approach is better than another, although there is a consensus of findings that early intensive education that involves the parents and includes direct teaching of essential skills with an opportunity for planned integration, can produce significant changes," says the review.

The LGA's research proposal acknowledges that education authorities are concerned about the increasing costs of providing for autistic children, as parents seek placements in private schools and appeal to the special educational needs tribunal.

Ivor Widdison, the LGA's education policy co-ordinator, said authorities had a responsibility to identify effective ways of educating autistic children.

"The parents of children with autism would be very fed up if they thought we were only doing this to save money," he said.

"But there is a responsibility on all of us to find something that is cost-effective. If you are sending two or three children to the Boston Higashi School at a cost of Pounds 56,000 each a year, you have got a big hole in your special needs budget."

The review was welcomed by Paul Cann, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, who said autistic children should have a right to pre-school support.

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