Intervention and supports for children and families

Research theme leader: Professor Alison Lane

Researchers: Cheryl Dissanayake, Megan Clark, Josephine Barbaro, Katy Unwin

Many of the studies profiled below focus on Early Intervention (EI) for pre-school children with autism and building supports for their families. OTARC is currently studying:

  • the long-term outcomes of autistic children diagnosed early who accesses early intervention,
  • the effect of different learning environments on intervention outcomes,
  • predictors of developmental outcomes to different types of intervention,
  • the support their families provide and need, and
  • the family outcomes of autistic children accessing early intervention.

A naturalistic developmental behavioural intervention we have focused on is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). We’ve found that young children receiving Group ESDM within mainstream childcare make similar gains to those receiving this intervention within autism-specific settings. We also examine different models of EI delivery to allow us to match children to specific EI programs from which they will make the most gains in learning. In addition, we also study how best to enhance learning by coaching parents to deliver the ESDM. In so doing, understanding families’ experiences with their autistic children provides important information regarding how best to support both the children and their families.

New Research: Should autistic children be educated in inclusive or specialised settings?

Vivanti, G., Dissanayake, C., Duncan, E., Feary, J., Capes, K., Upson, S., Bent, C. A., Rogers, S. J., Hudry, K., & Victorian ASELCC Team (2019). Outcomes of children receiving Group-EDSM in an inclusive versus autism-specific setting: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Autism, 23(5), 1165–1175. doi: 10.1177/1362361318801341

This study is one of the first in the world to investigate the feasibility and efficacy of delivering Group-EDSM to children to autistic children in inclusive versus specialised classrooms.

We found that:

  • Autistic children in both settings showed improvement in spontaneous vocalisation, social interaction and imitation, verbal cognition, adaptive behaviour, and autism symptoms.
  • Mothers of the autistic children experienced a reduction in stress regardless of educational setting.
  • Delivery of Group-EDSM in an inclusive setting looks feasible, with teaching quality maintained and child improvements observed.

Where to now? The next step is to conduct a large-scale equivalence trial to show us for whom access to Group-EDSM may be the most effective.

Read more here

External Resources

Choosing interventions for autism

This Raising Children Network article details factors to consider in choosing interventions for your child

https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/therapies-services/therapies-interventions/choosing-interventions-for-asd

Early intervention options

Autism Awareness Australia outlines the types of interventions available and provides brief reviews of the main evidence-based kinds

https://www.autismawareness.com.au/therapies/early-intervention/

Current studies

StudyDescriptionResearchers

Child and Family Outcomes of children receiving the Group - Early Start Denver Model (G-ESDM)

Funding: Department of Social Services

The aim in this long-term study is to establish the social and learning outcomes of autistic children and their families who access the G-ESDM at the Margot Prior Autism Intervention centre and the La Trobe Community Children’s Centre.Cheryl Dissanayake
Victorian ASELCC Team

Comparing learning and social outcomes of preschoolers with Autism in inclusive versus specialised settings: A Randomized Control Trial to test a new model of early intervention delivery

Funding: Department of Social Services

This study, which has now been published, while showing significant improvements in learning and social outcomes over a period of one year, revealed no differences in these outcomes across an inclusive and specialised setting. The results thus inform the provision of early intervention at the Margot Prior Autism Intervention Centre at La Trobe University and beyond. We are now examining for whom each setting is best and the comparative costs of provision of early intervention within each setting.Cheryl Dissanayake
Kristelle Hudry
Alan Shiell
Cathy Bent
Giacomo Vivanti (Drexel University)
Victorian ASELCC Team

Parental resolution to their child’s autism diagnosis and fidelity of parent delivered intervention and intervention outcomes for pre-school children

Funding: La Trobe University, School of Psychology and Public Health

The aim in this study is to examine whether parents’ resolution to their child’s autism diagnosis is related to their treatment fidelity and the child outcomes following parent mediated intervention.Paula Grogan (Masters candidate, Clinical Psyc)
Cheryl Dissanayake
Rachel Jellett
Katy Unwin
Maya Yaari

Intranasal Oxytocin in Preschoolers with Autism receiving Social Learning Therapy: A Randomised, Double-blind, Repeated Dose Study

Funding: NH&MRC

The primary aim in this multi-site study is to determine the efficacy of a 12-week intervention program of oxytocin (OT) when combined with the Parent-delivered Early Start Denver Model (P-ESDM), an early social learning intervention program in young children aged 3-5 years old with Autism.Adam Guastella
Geralidine Dawson
Cheryl Dissanayake
Valsamma Eapen
Yun Ju (Christine) Song
Ruth Feldman
Natalie Silove
Rachel Jellett
Katy Unwin
Sally Rogers

Decreasing defensive responses: An intervention study of emotional regulation, social engagement, auditory processing and motor skills in children with autism.  

Funding: La Trobe University, School of Psychology and Public Health

The aim in this study is to investigate a novel intervention, the Safe and Sound Protocol (Porges et al., 2014) on downregulation of defensive responses.Joanne McIntyre (PhD candidate)
Darren Hocking
Darren Hedley

The Beliefs and Experiences of Practitioners Who Have Worked in Multi-Sensory Environments with Autistic Children: A Sequential Mixed-Methods Investigation

Funding: Economic and Social Science Research Council, UK

This study was the first to investigate the beliefs and experiences of practitioners who work with autistic children in Multi-Sensory Environments. Using a sequential mixed methods approach, findings from initial in-depth interviews with practitioners were transformed into a survey that was completed by a larger group of practitioners.Katy Unwin
Georgie Powell (Cardiff University)
Catherine Jones (Cardiff University)

The use of Multi-Sensory Environments with autistic children: Exploring the effect of having control of sensory changes

Funding: Economic and Social Science Research Council, UK

In this study, the largest on children to date, we measured the effect of providing control over a Multi-Sensory Environment on the behaviours, attention and arousal levels of 41 autistic children aged four to twelve years.Katy Unwin
Georgie Powell (Cardiff University)
Catherine Jones (Cardiff University)

Brief report: Preferences of autistic children for Multi-Sensory Environment equipment: Patterns of use and individual differences

Funding: Economic and Social Science Research Council, UK

We examined whether sensory profile, age, ability and autism severity impacted the preferences of autistic children for particular equipment within a Multi-Sensory Environment.Katy Unwin
Georgie Powell (Cardiff University)
Catherine Jones (Cardiff University)

Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention for Autism: Understanding ‘What Works for Whom?’

Funding: Department of Social Services

The aim in this project is to identify the profiles of children who respond best and most poorly to the two most highly recommended early intensive behavioural interventions for children with autism: ABA Discrete Trial Training and the Early Start Denver Model.Cathy Bent
Cheryl Dissanayake
Kristelle Hudry
Katherine Pye
Victorian ASELCC Team
Giacomo Vivanti (Drexel University)
Karen McKinnon
Susan Glenross (Autism Partnership Australia)

Supporting Best Practice in the Assessment and Treatment of Minimally Verbal Children with Autism

Funding: Department of Social Services

The overall objective in this project is to better support clinicians and educators to (a) understand, (b) predict, (c) meaningfully measure, and (d) report spoken language growth and outcomes for minimally verbal children with autism.David Trembath
M. Tucker
Kristelle Hudry
Katherine Pye
C. Muckett
K. Fordyce
G. Hoppenbrouwers
A. DeBlasio
S. Webb
A. Joosten
R. Grove
J. Paynter
M. Westerveld
N. Maher
V. Rose
D. Keen
Valsamma Eapen
S. Riley
Teresa Iacono
Cheryl Dissanayake
Australian Infant Communication and Engagement Study (AICES)This is a multisite (Perth, Melbourne), randomised clinical trial that is being conducted in partnership with Telethon Kids Institute, Western Australia Child Development Service and the University of Manchester.

From Telethon Kids institiute:
Andrew Whitehouse
Kandice Varcin
Maryam Boutrus
Matthew Cooper
From La Trobe University:
Cheryl Dissanayake
Kristelle Hudry
Josephine Barbaro
Teresa Iacono
John Wray (Department of Health WA)
Jonathan Green (University of Manchester)
Carol Taylor (University of Manchester)
Ming Wai Wan (University of Manchester)
Vicky Slonims (Guys’ and St Thomas Hospital, London)
Murray Mayber (University of Western Australia)
Emma Davidson (Child and Adolescent Health Service)