Synthesis of evidence for autism early intervention approaches

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Autism is a collective term for neurodevelopmental disabilities that affect social interaction, communication, behaviours and interests. Every person on the autism spectrum is unique, however many people on the spectrum experience additional challenges with educational and vocational attainment, mental health and family functioning. Interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum share a universal goal of minimising the impact of developmental challenges on the individual’s abilities and quality of life, and maximising their long-term autonomy over their own life choices.

‘Early intervention’ is a term used to describe therapeutic (and non-pharmacologic) interventions designed to improve developmental outcomes that is first applied during the early years of life. Early intervention is considered important, providing significant opportunities to support early development and reduce longer-term disability.

A wide range of early intervention approaches for autism are used, and these are often divided into the following categories:

  1. Behavioural
  2. Developmental
  3. Naturalistic developmental behavioural interventions
  4. Sensory based interventions
  5. Technology based interventions.

As individuals on the autism spectrum vary widely in developmental abilities and support needs, it is recognised that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to autism intervention; that is, there is no one therapy model or intensity that improves outcomes for all children. Given the importance of early intervention, it is critical that the safety and effect of intervention approaches are subject to testing using well designed clinical trials.

This research project will review the existing evidence for non-pharmacological intervention approaches for children on the autism spectrum up to age 12 years, and seek to answer the following questions:

  • What non-pharmacological interventions have been examined in systematic reviews?
  • What effects do non-pharmacological interventions have on child outcomes?
  • What effects do non-pharmacological interventions have on parent/caregiver outcomes?
  • What are the optimal delivery characteristics of non-pharmacological interventions?
  • What child characteristics impact on intervention outcomes?

The project is being funded by the National Disability Insurance Agency.

Early Years
Project code
Project Leader(s)
  • Andrew Whitehouse, Telethon Kids Institute (TKI)
Project status