Early Intervention for Autism

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Early intervention for autism aims to help children on the spectrum develop skills to live as independently as possible and participate in family, school, and community life.

What is early intervention for autism?

The term ‘early intervention’ is used to describe therapies and supports that start in early childhood. You’ll also hear therapies and supports for young children called ‘Early Childhood Intervention’ (ECI) or ‘Early Childhood Early Intervention’ (ECEI).

If you have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), early intervention is designed to help them develop skills in areas such as communication, daily living, socialising, and learning. Developing these skills early helps kids have the best chance of reaching their potential and being able to participate in home, school, work, sport and community activities.

Early intervention involves using a variety of strategies, supports and therapies. Often, therapy will take a play-based approach. This makes it fun, while helping kids with ASD learn and develop important skills.

Early intervention programs for autism should be tailored to your child’s challenges and strengths. Autism interventions often involve a combination of therapies and strategies to help your child reach their goals.

Early interventions for autism should ideally start as soon as possible after your child’s needs have been recognised. Your child doesn’t necessarily need to have an autism diagnosis to begin early intervention. The NDIS’s early intervention approach gives children younger than 7 years with developmental delay or disability fast access to support. If your child is aged 7 years or older, they need to have a significant disability that is likely to be permanent to get NDIS funding.

For a child with autism, early intervention services start with an assessment of their unique needs, strengths, abilities and interests. Next, your early intervention provider will work with your family to create a personal support plan. This will revolve around meeting your child’s goals, with therapies to help your child reach them. The focus is typically on helping your child meet developmental milestones.

Early interventions for autism may be delivered at home, a childcare centre, school, or in the community. They may include individual and small group sessions.

Young girl sitting at a table doing early intervention for autism focusing on fine motor skills.
A young girl with autism wearing a pink shirt and swinging on playground equipment.

Why is early intervention important for autism?

Children with autism often experience delays in areas such as motor skill development, communication and emotional regulation. This can impact their ability to participate in learning, social and community activities.

Early intervention for autism is important because it addresses these delays, helping to promote healthy development and skill building. Early intervention focuses on optimising each child’s growth, development and learning.

The early intervention approach makes use of the adaptability and learning potential built into young children. You may have noticed that children find it easier to learn a new skill. For example, they can acquire communication skills without having to study, and can often learn how to play an instrument or a sport faster than an adult.

This is because their growing brains and bodies are designed to learn. Early intervention involves tapping into a child’s adaptability to help them gain important skills and achieve developmental milestones.

Fortunately, the nervous system maintains its ability to rewire itself in response to how we use it (which is known as ‘plasticity’) throughout life. So, if your child is not diagnosed with autism until they’re older, therapeutic interventions and supports can still have a significant positive impact on their development.

The benefits of early intervention for autism

For kids with autism, early intervention can help them develop skills in key developmental areas:


Such as daily living skills, motor skills and feeding skills


Their ability to think and learn

Social and Emotional

The ability to manage emotions, communicate with others and build relationships


The ability to understand and control their behaviour in different situations.

Developing skills in these areas gives children with autism the best chance of being able to live independently, establish a career, and build good relationships in adulthood.

Types of early intervention for autism

Early interventions for autism come in various types which address the different areas of a child’s development.

Behavioral interventions

These autism interventions focus on understanding your child’s behaviour and supporting them to develop behaviours and skills that may be more helpful. Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a common type of early intervention for autism and involves using a range of behaviour therapy strategies to target one or more areas of behavioural development.

Developmental interventions

These interventions are focused on helping a child with autism develop daily living skills and the ability to form healthy relationships. In kids with ASD, this type of early intervention often focuses on social and emotional skill-building, such as the ability to recognise other people’s emotions.

Therapeutic interventions

This type of autism early intervention involves using evidence-based therapies to target specific areas of a child’s development. Examples include:

  • Speech therapy – to support a child to develop communication and feeding skills, such as the ability to speak, read, chew and swallow
  • Occupational therapy – which can help with skills needed for self-care, play and school, such as fine motor skills, toileting and dressing.
  • Physiotherapy – to help a child develop skills for mobility, daily activities, school and leisure, such as walking, sitting, balance, posture, and sport-specific skills.
  • Psychology – to help with things like managing emotions, developing social skills and forming relationships.
  • Dietetic therapy – to support a child with issues such as picky eating and problem feeding.

Many children with autism benefit from a combination of therapeutic supports, which is known as a multidisciplinary approach.

Family-based interventions

These types of interventions are delivered in the context of a child’s family. Typically, a health professional will train and support a parent or carer so they can help with providing therapeutic support to their child. For example, an NDIS physiotherapist or exercise physiologist might train your family to practice specific exercises with your child.

Combined interventions

Often, a combination of approaches will be most beneficial for a child with autism. Some therapies will address more than one area of development. For example, gross motor skill training in a small group can help with social as well as motor skill development. Some therapies may use elements from different types of interventions, such as behavioural and developmental strategies.

Does early intervention work for autism?

Over the last 10 years, there has been a significant jump in the number of studies exploring early intervention approaches for autism. In 2020, the NDIA arranged for Autism CRC to review high-quality evidence on early intervention for kids aged up to 12 years on the autism spectrum.

Their findings offer some of the best possible evidence about whether early intervention works for autism, and which interventions lead to the best outcomes.

Here are some of the important things they found.

  • Parents play a vital role – when parents were involved in the interventions, outcomes were sometimes better than when interventions were delivered by health professionals or educators alone.
  • There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach – that is, no one intervention enhances developmental outcomes for all kids with ASD.
  • Tapping into the expertise of various clinicians in health, education and medicine may be beneficial to the child and their family.
Boy with autism sitting at his kitchen table and cutting up pieces of fruit.

Choosing an early intervention service for your child with autism

Choosing an early intervention service for your child with ASD can feel overwhelming for many families. Some things to consider when choosing an early intervention program include:

Does the therapy work i.e., is it recognised and known to be effective?

Can the service provider deliver therapy in a way that meets our family’s needs?

How much will it cost and are there any additional expenses e.g., travel charges?

How long will we have to wait to get started?

Are there any risks of participating in therapy?

What assessments are involved and how will my child’ s progress be measured?

How much time will therapy take?

What are the expectations about my involvement in the interventions?

Are the professionals we’ll be seeing suitably trained, qualified and registered?

Our early intervention programs for autism

At Active Ability, our team of allied health professionals have significant experience supporting children with autism. Our paediatric physiotherapy and paediatric dietetic professionals will work with your family to create an early intervention support plan tailored to your child’s strengths, challenges and goals.

Our NDIS registered health professionals are dedicated to helping children with disability achieve the greatest possible health, independence, and quality of life. We’re a mobile early intervention service, so we can see you at home, childcare, school, or another convenient location.

We don’t keep a waiting list, so you can start therapy as soon as you’re ready. We do not charge for travel, which can help you make full use of your NDIS funding.

To learn more about how we might be able to help your child and family, contact our friendly team on (02) 8355 6406, email hello@activeability.com.au or fill in our contact form.

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ABN: 17 611 019 222
NDIS Provider #: 55973903

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