A couple of articles in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry find positive outcomes for a couple of different interventions. The usual caveats apply. Over the years, there have been many, many false starts. Studies require replication before we can be really confident that they are onto something. (The failure to replicate studies and reproduce their findings is a big problem in psychology.)
Annette Estes and colleagues, "Long-Term Outcomes of Early Intervention in 6-Year-Old Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder." The abstract:
ObjectiveRobin L. Gabriels and colleagues, "Randomized Controlled Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder." The abstract:
We prospectively examined evidence for the sustained effects of early intervention based on a follow-up study of 39 children with ASD who began participation in a randomized clinical trial testing the effectiveness of the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) at age 18 to 30 months. The intervention, conducted at a high level of intensity in-home for 2 years, showed evidence of efficacy immediately posttreatment.
This group of children was assessed at age 6 years, 2 years after the intervention ended, across multiple domains of functioning by clinicians naive to previous intervention group status.
The ESDM group, on average, maintained gains made in early intervention during the 2-year follow-up period in overall intellectual ability, adaptive behavior, symptom severity, and challenging behavior. No group differences in core autism symptoms were found immediately posttreatment; however, 2 years later, the ESDM group demonstrated improved core autism symptoms and adaptive behavior as compared with the community-intervention-as-usual (COM) group. The 2 groups were not significantly different in terms of intellectual functioning at age 6 years. Both groups received equivalent intervention hours during the original study, but the ESDM group received fewer hours during the follow-up period.
These results provide evidence that gains from early intensive intervention are maintained 2 years later. Notably, core autism symptoms improved in the ESDM group over the follow-up period relative to the COM group. This improvement occurred at the same time that the ESDM group received significantly fewer services. This is the first study to examine the role of early ESDM behavioral intervention initiated at less than 30 months of age in altering the longer-term developmental course of autism.
This study expands previous equine-assisted intervention research by evaluating the effectiveness of therapeutic horseback riding (THR) on self-regulation, socialization, communication, adaptive, and motor behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Participants with ASD (aged 6–16 years; N = 127) were stratified by nonverbal IQ standard scores (≤85 or >85) and randomized to 1 of 2 groups for 10 weeks: THR intervention or a barn activity (BA) control group without horses that used similar methods. The fidelity of the THR intervention was monitored. Participants were evaluated within 1 month pre- and postintervention by raters blinded to intervention conditions and unblinded caregiver questionnaires. During the intervention, caregivers rated participants’ behaviors weekly.
Intent-to-treat analysis conducted on the 116 participants who completed a baseline assessment (THR n = 58; BA control n = 58) revealed significant improvements in the THR group compared to the control on measures of irritability (primary outcome) (p = .02; effect size [ES] = 0.50) and hyperactivity (p = .01; ES = 0.53), beginning by week 5 of the intervention. Significant improvements in the THR group were also observed on a measure of social cognition (p = .05; ES = 0.41) and social communication (p = .003; ES = 0.63), along with the total number of words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) and new words (p = .01; ES = 0.54) spoken during a standardized language sample. Sensitivity analyses adjusting for age, IQ, and per protocol analyses produced consistent results.
This is the first large-scale, randomized, controlled trial demonstrating efficacy of THR for the ASD population, and findings are consistent with previous equine-assisted intervention studies.
Clinical trial registration information
Trial of Therapeutic Horseback Riding in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder;http://clinicaltrials.gov; NCT02301195.