We know very little about which preschool intervention placements produce the best outcomes for which children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). A team from the University of Pennsylvania examined the effectiveness of three early intervention preschool placements: inclusive, mixed disability, and autism-only.
Children in this study had completed early intervention and were now enrolled in elementary school autism support classes. The researchers assessed each child’s current cognitive skills and reviewed their preschool early intervention educational records.
The three early intervention placements were categorized as follows:
- Inclusive placements took place in a variety of settings, including center-based programs run by a special education teacher for typically developing children that included children with ASD, Head Start preschools, community-based typical preschools, and day-care settings.
- Mixed disability placements included children with developmental or other disabilities as well as children with ASD.
- Autism-only placements took place in center-based autism support preschool programs.
Children who attended inclusive early intervention placements scored higher on cognitive measures when they started elementary school than the children who were in mixed disability and autism-only placements. This was particularly true for children with at least minimal communication skills, lower adaptive behavior skills, and lower social skills.
These findings suggest that having more opportunities to interact with, and learn from, typically developing peers may be particularly important for the cognitive outcomes of some children with ASD. However children with ASD with other strengths and weaknesses may benefit from other types of intervention settings.
Based on the findings from this project, the University of Pennsylvania has begun a new study that is following children currently enrolled in the preschool early intervention system in Philadelphia. The researchers plan to follow the children over the course of nine months and observe whether children with different strengths and weaknesses benefit more or less in certain types of settings (inclusive, mixed-disability, or autism-only).
Source: Nahmias, A.S., Kase, C., Mandell, D.S. (2014). “Comparing cognitive outcomes among children with autism spectrum disorders receiving community-based early intervention in one of three placements.” Autism, 18(3), 311-320. PMID: 23188885