How many hours a week of intervention do young children with autism need? A new study suggests that the precise number may not be all that consequential.

Researchers say they found similar outcomes in toddlers with autism whether they participated in 15 or 25 hours each week of one-on-one intervention.

The findings come from a study that evaluated two very different styles of autism intervention — Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention, which is rooted in applied behavior analysis, and Early Start Denver Model, which uses an interactive approach and is implemented through everyday activities. Both methods are known to bring about significant gains in language, cognitive and adaptive skills.

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“When parents receive the first diagnosis, they typically ask: What kind of treatment should I seek and for how many hours per week?” said Sally J. Rogers of the MIND Institute at the University of California, Davis who led the study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “As clinicians, we had no data from well-controlled experimental studies to answer these questions. This study is the first to ask these questions experimentally.”

Researchers divided 87 children with autism ages 12 to 30 months into four different groups, each receiving either 15 or 25 hours per week of one of the intervention approaches. All of the children received one-on-one therapy for a year in their homes and in other child care settings and their caregivers had two coaching sessions per month, each lasting an hour and a half. Therapists monitored the children’s progress daily to tweak the methods as needed and the children were assessed every six months.

Ultimately, the study found no meaningful difference in the level of progress in receptive language, expressive communication, nonverbal ability or autism symptoms across the four different treatment groups. That was the case even when comparing children with varying levels of severity at the outset, the researchers said.

Those behind the study said the findings need to be replicated and should be tested in older children to determine if they respond differently.

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