Home Tutoring Lifts IQ Of Autistic Children

Autistic children who receive intensive one-to-one tutoring for two years when very young have shown dramatic increases in IQ levels which can allow them to go to mainstream schools, according to research published yesterday.

A two-year British study into the impact of early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) found that some toddlers on the programme jumped 40 IQ points. A quarter showed “very substantial improvements”, and none regressed.

The youngsters also showed more advanced language and better daily living skills than similar children in a control group who received standard educational support such as speech therapy.

There were also improvements to their motor and social skills and early social communication.

The findings of the research, which was conducted by a team from the University of Southampton, were welcomed by autism charities. The results are likely to be seized on by parents of children with autism, which is on the rise.

According to Research Autism – one of the charities funding the study and the provider of a new website evaluating different therapies and interventions – the condition now affects one in 100 children.

As well as struggling to cope with the demands of the condition, many parents also have to fight for informed help and support, including access to a suitably equipped school.

Under EIBI, parents undergo training and work with specialist staff to teach their children in their own homes for 25 hours a week. The teaching programme – which begins at around two and a half and lasts for two years – is tailored to each child’s needs and abilities. As children make progress, they receive constant praise and rewards for their successes.

Bob Remington, one of the co-authors of the research, said the teaching could lead to “major change”.

Three-quarters of the 23 children receiving EIBI were able to go to mainstream school, compared with half of the 21 receiving other therapies. As well as following the 44 children over two years, the study also assessed their parents to identify whether the programme increased the stress they experienced.

In another key finding, the parents showed no more stress than those in the control group, despite the high level of input they were required to provide.

Professor Remington said: “Twenty-five hours’ home therapy a week is a big commitment for children and parents alike. In fact most parents took this in their stride.”

EIBI was developed in America 20 years ago and US studies have also produced positive results. The Southampton research is the first comprehensive study in Britain, where the therapy is available only in some areas. Some local authorities are reluctant to fund the £20,000-£30,000 a year cost per child involved. However, the researchers argue that effective early intervention can reduce the costs of lifetime care for a person with autism – estimated at £2.9m.

The work and pensions minister, John Hutton, speaking at the launch of the research, said the estimated £5bn annual cost of autism in Britain was a “conservative” figure. People with the condition were often unable to work in jobs that fulfilled their potential, he said, calling for more research into effective early interventions.