The communication intervention program should be developed from these assessment results. It is important that the intervention program be fully individualized, based on the child’s profile of communicative, social/affective, and symbolic abilities. The intervention plan should also include the family’s priorities, resources, and needs (Wetherby, Prizant, & Hutchinson, 1998). Short-term goals may include: helping the child to participate in interactive or turn-taking routines, establishing a clear intentional signaling system, developing socially appropriate and conventionalized signals, and increasing the variety and frequency of communicative intentions (Westby, 1998).
Early Intervention for Children with Autism
With the recent emphasis in the literature to identify early diagnostic criteria for children with autism, evidence suggests that earlier intervention stands to benefit the child with autism to a much greater extent than intervention beginning after children are five years of age. Researchers and clinicians are advocating for early, intensive intervention for children with a label of autism (Woods & Wetherby, 2003). This emphasis is based on research indicating that children who receive early intervention before three years of age are more likely to demonstrate greater gains in language and communication development than children who receive intervention later in life (Chandler et al., 2002). In addition, research has found a significant amount of variability among children with autism suggesting that a diagnosis of autism in and of itself does not necessarily predict later developmental outcomes (Sigman & Ruskin, 1999). Given the potential for significant gains for children with autism, early intervention is critical.
Although there is limited research available examining the efficacy of intervention with children with autism younger than three years of age, there is empirical support for the benefits of early, intensive therapy for children with other developmental disabilities including mental retardation and Down syndrome (McCathren, 2000; Warren et al., 1993; Yoder & Warren, 2002) as well as theoretical support for the efficacy of early intervention for children with autism (Mundy & Neal, 2001; Ozonoff & South, 2001). Theoretical support is based in part on research examining the efficacy of intervention for older children with autism. Additionally, research identifying relationships between early nonverbal communication skills including gesture use (Carpenter, Nagell, & Tomasello, 1998), joint attention (Markus et al., 2000), and early representational play (Sigman & Ruskin, 1999) with later language abilities suggest potential benefits of early intervention focusing on improving these early communication and play skills in children with autism.