In Brief

Young autistic children participating in programs based on the Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) model--an intensive structured approach to learning--can make significant academic progress, according to a study presented by its lead researcher James A. Mulick, PhD, at APA's 2003 Annual Convention.

The study examined eight previously EIBI-enrolled children with moderate mental retardation, a common side effect of autism. In the EIBI model, instructors teach children to imitate their motions, and to match and sort sequence objects and, eventually, abstractions. As students progress, lessons become more complex, including language use and practical grooming and other skills necessary for school. EIBI programs recommend 40 hours of instruction per week for about three years.

Preliminary results from the eight children tracked in the study showed that most of them moved from a label of mentally retarded to a label of average intelligence after one to three years of program participation. That result is "remarkable," given the quick decrease in autistic symptoms, said Mulick, professor of pediatrics and psychology at Ohio State University.

Six of the eight children showed at least average IQ scores after treatment, and two improved to mild mental retardation.

In addition, seven of the eight participants made significant gains in adaptive behavior, such as dressing themselves and washing their hands. All eight students were academically ready for school, but their language skills lagged behind their peers. Only one of the eight students still had autistic symptoms severe enough to still be diagnosed as obviously autistic.

"We saw autistic children with some of the rosiest outcomes, but there were still residual symptoms," Mulick said. While the study's results were positive, he cautions against EIBI as the autism cure-all.