It is now widely accepted that with autism, the earlier the support the better.
It is easier to teach skills such as communication when the child is young because the brain is more adaptable when we are younger. It is also easier to teach a child who hasn’t experienced an unhelpful history of reinforcement (reward). For example, we are often asked by schools to help with children who disrupt the class. Sometimes our analysis shows that the child is stressed and wants a break, they have learnt that when they are disruptive, they are sent out of the room and so get the break they need. We would teach a replacement behaviour of them requesting a break, but this is easier if they haven’t previously had experience of being given a break as a consequence of disruptiveness
What about older children?
We are all able to learn new behaviours over the course of our entire lives and this is no different for autistic people. ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) is a science that is used in many areas of life and helps people of all ages and abilities. The research shows that intensive behavioural intervention can be very effective with older children1.
1. Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S. (2002). Intensive behavioral treatment at school for 4-7-year-old children with autism: A 1-year comparison controlled study. Behavior Modification, 26, 49-68
2. Dawson, G (2008). Early behavioral intervention, brain plasticity, and the prevention of autism spectrum disorder. Development and Psychopathology, 20, pp 775-803