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Is Early Intervention CLINICALLY Effective?

Text Box:  There is a key question that every parent, professional, and politician wants answered: “Is Early Intervention Clinically Effective?”  The experts have spoken loudly on this question.  The World Bank has published a book entitled “Early Child Development: Investing in the Future”.  In Chapter I (“The Case for Early Intervention”) the authors state, “Thirty years of research has shown that such programs can improve primary and even secondary school performance, increase children’s prospects for higher productivity, and reduce the probability that they will become burdens on public health and social service budgets.”  There is also research on the clinical effectiveness of Early Intervention with specific disorders.  For example, a report on autism by the U.S. Surgeon General states: “Intensive, sustained special education programs and behavior therapy early in life can increase the ability of a child with autism to acquire language and ability to learn…Thirty years of research has demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods.”  After screening 300 articles and selecting the 49 studies with the highest scientific standards, the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders published in 1999 by the New York State Department of Health states: “It is important to identify children with autism and begin appropriate interventions as soon as possible since such early interventions may help speed the child’s overall development, reduce inappropriate behaviors, and lead to better long-term functional outcomes.” (page IV-4).  After screening 372 articles, and selecting the 40 studies with the highest scientific standards, the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Communication Disorders published in 1999 by the New York State Department of Health recommends: “It is important to identify children with communication disorders and begin appropriate interventions as soon as possible.  Early intervention may help speed the child’s overall language development and lead to better long-term functional outcomes.” (page IV-6).  In Michael Guralnick’s 1997 seminal work, The Effectiveness of Early Intervention,” the clinical effectiveness of Early Intervention is meticulously documented with peer-reviewed research for Down Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Communication Disorders, Conduct Problems, Hearing Loss, Visual Impairments, Mental Retardation, premature/low birth-weight children, for children who were abused, and for children with prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs.  Of course, different effect sizes are noted across the various disorders studied, but, overall Early Intervention services are consistently found to have positive clinical effects. 

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