How does preschool help autistic kids? Local families recruited for international study

This year's Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton summer camp is helping children deal with the stresses that COVID-19 brings. July 22, 2020. (Darcy Seaton/CTV News Edmonton)

This September about 100 local families will join an international study looking at early interventions for autistic children.

Children's Autism Services of Edmonton will work with University of Alberta researchers to support the McMaster Children's Hospital study.

"This is a really exciting study to be involved in," Terri Duncan told CTV News Edmonton Thursday.

Duncan is executive director of Children's Autism Services of Edmonton. She said the site is the only one being included from western Canada.

"All of the other sites are in Ontario and this is an international study as there is a global participation from a site in Israel," Duncan said. "It's a one of a kind opportunity for us to be involved and it's going to make a huge difference in how we serve our families."

The study will involve about 1,000 children and will look at the effect of preschool programs on kids with autism.

Duncan said their program focuses on basic daily living skills like talking and participating with peers.

"We've heard from so many families what a difference it makes when the kids are in our preschool programming," she said. "What we don't have are detailed outcome measures that show us where we should improve, what we should continue and what is most important."

She said one thing that makes this study unique is that families will be updated regularly instead of having to wait until the preschool program is complete.

"We're going to have a dashboard, an electronic dashboard, that we are going to be able to pull up with a snapshot view with the families every three months," said Duncan. "We can evaluate where they're going and how these kids are improving and where they're struggling so that we can help the families and help the kids as we go."

Participation in the study is voluntary and Duncan said specific results are confidential. With so many children involved she believes the research will be ground breaking.

"When you have a thousand families with data that's all aggregated together, that really tells you a lot of information," she said. "It's going to allow us to make a lot of comparisons, a lot of choices, a lot of improvements and to continually improve the services that we provide because what really matters is the outcome."