Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) is one of the most widely used treatments for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The purpose of our review was to examine the research on EIBI. We found a total of five studies that compared EIBI to generic special education services for children with ASD in schools. Only one study randomly assigned children to a treatment or comparison group, which is considered the 'gold standard' for research. The other four studies used parent preference to assign children to groups. We examined and compared the results of all five studies. A total of 203 children (all were younger than six years old when they started treatment) were included in the five studies. We found that children receiving the EIBI treatment performed better than children in the comparison groups after about two years of treatment on tests of adaptive behavior (behaviors that increase independence and the ability to adapt to one's environment), intelligence, social skills, communication and language, autism symptoms, and quality of life. The evidence supports the use of EIBI for some children with ASD. However, the quality of this evidence is low as only a small number of children were involved in the studies and only one study randomly assigned children to groups.
There is some evidence that EIBI is an effective behavioral treatment for some children with ASD. However, the current state of the evidence is limited because of the reliance on data from non-randomized studies (CCTs) due to the lack of RCTs. Additional studies using RCT research designs are needed to make stronger conclusions about the effects of EIBI for children with ASD.
The rising prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) increases the need for evidence-based behavioral treatments to lessen the impact of symptoms on children's functioning. At present, there are no curative or psychopharmacological therapies to effectively treat all symptoms of the disorder. Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI), a treatment based on the principles of applied behavior analysis delivered for multiple years at an intensity of 20 to 40 hours per week, is one of the more well-established treatments for ASD.
To systematically review the evidence for the effectiveness of EIBI in increasing the functional behaviors and skills of young children with ASD.
We searched the following databases on 22 November 2011: CENTRAL (2011 Issue 4), MEDLINE (1948 to November Week 2, 2011), EMBASE (1980 to Week 46, 2011), PsycINFO (1806 to November Week 3, 2011), CINAHL (1937 to current), ERIC (1966 to current), Sociological Abstracts (1952 to current), Social Science Citation Index (1970 to current), WorldCat, metaRegister of Controlled Trials, and Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations. We also searched the reference lists of published papers.
Randomized control trials (RCTs), quasi-randomized control trials, or clinical control trials (CCTs) in which EIBI was compared to a no-treatment or treatment-as-usual control condition. Participants must have been less than six years of age at treatment onset and assigned to their study condition prior to commencing treatment.
Two authors independently selected and appraised studies for inclusion and assessed the risk of bias in each included study. All outcome data were continuous, from which standardized mean difference effect sizes with small sample correction were calculated. We conducted random-effects meta-analysis where possible, which means we assumed individual studies would provide different estimates of treatment effects.
One RCT and four CCTs with a total of 203 participants were included. Reliance on synthesis from four CCTs limits the evidential base and this should be borne in mind when interpreting the results. All studies used a treatment-as-usual comparison group. We synthesized the results of the four CCTs using a random-effects model of meta-analysis of the standardized mean differences. Positive effects in favor of the EIBI treatment group were found for all outcomes. The mean effect size for adaptive behavior was g = 0.69 (95% CI 0.38 to 1.01; P < 0.0001). The mean effect size for IQ was g = 0.76 (95% CI 0.40 to 1.11; P < 0.0001). Three measures of communication and language skills all showed results in favor of EIBI: expressive language g = 0.50 (95% CI 0.05 to 0.95; P = 0.03), receptive language g = 0.57 (95% CI 0.20 to 0.94; P = .03), and daily communication skills g = 0.74 (95% CI 0.30 to 1.18; P = 0.0009). The mean effect size for socialization was g = 0.42 (95% CI 0.11 to 0.73; P = 0.0008), and for daily living skills was g = 0.55 (95% CI 0.24 to 0.87; P = 0.0005). Additional descriptive analyses of other aspects related to quality of life and psychopathology are presented. However, due to the inclusion of non-randomized studies, there is a high risk of bias and the overall quality of evidence was rated as 'low' using the GRADE system, which rates the quality of evidence from meta-analyses to determine recommendations for practice.