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Why Early Intervention is Key for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

June 15, 2017

Once a child has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), parents may wonder how they can best help their child in their growth and development.

Early intervention is one of the most important services available to parents of children with Autism (or any developmental delay). There are people who can support you and answer your questions regarding your child’s development.

Read on for more information!

Importance of Early Intervention

According to the Iowa Family Support Network, early intervention is a system of services that helps infants and toddlers with, or at risk for, developmental delays or disabilities. These early intervention services are designed to help families of eligible children learn how to create learning opportunities in the child's natural environment to develop early skills for which they need strengthening. These skills include:

  • Physical: reaching, rolling, crawling and walking

  • Cognitive: thinking, learning, solving problems

  • Communication: talking, listening, understanding

  • Social/Emotional: playing, feeling secure and happy

  • Self-help: eating, dressing

In Iowa, early intervention, or Early Access services, collaborates with families to identify proactive ways for children with developmental delays to make the best possible progress. Families and service coordinators work together to create an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to address family strengths, concerns, services and goals that are catered to the family’s needs. These services are available for children of all ages who are determined eligible. An IFSP is used for children who are birth to five years, while an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may be used for school age children.

What does the evidence or research show?

It is recommended that treatment begin as soon as a child is identified as an individual with autism or developmental delay, which can be as early as 18 months for some children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics makes the following recommendations regarding early intervention services for children with autism spectrum disorder:

  • Begin as early as possible with interventions and make sure they include a combination of developmental and behavioral approaches. (Data reviewed since 2001 support early intervention and can yield significantly improved development outcomes. Interventions initiated before three years of age may have a greater positive impact than those started after the age of five.)

  • The interventions should actively include families and/or caregivers.

  • Interventions should enhance an individual’s developmental progress and improve their functioning for core features (social, language, behavior) and associated features (mood, anxiety, attention etc) of ASD.

  • Sociocultural beliefs and factors and economic capability should be considered.

If you think your child needs assistance, contact Heartland AEA at this link.

Early Access Program

You can learn more about the Early Access program and referrals at the Heartland AEA website, Iowa Department of Education website, Iowa Family Support Network or call (888) 425-4371.

Reference: Zwaigenbaum, L., Bauman, M. L., Choueiri, R., Kasari, C., Carter, A., Granpeesheh, D., . . . Natowicz, M. R. (2015). Early Intervention for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder Under 3 Years of Age: Recommendations for Practice and Research. Pediatrics, 136(Supplement). doi:10.1542/peds.2014-3667e


Coming Up! How does a parent choose the right intervention? Our team will talk about that in an upcoming blog.

Heartland AEA School Social Worker Morgan Stone and School Psychologists Kristen Bloch, Madeleine Moody and Jane Jensen blog about challenging behavior and autism and the services and supports available from Heartland AEA.

Picture of Morgan Stone
Morgan Stone
Picture of Kristen Bloch
Kristen Bloch
Picture of Madeleine Moody
Madeleine Moody
Picture of Jane Jensen
Jane Jensen


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