Research Findings

Research that makes a difference


The PATI Study

The Challenge:

The alarming increase in the rate of diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has put pressure on publicly funded services to meet the needs of these children and their families. Intensive behavioural interventions for preschoolers with ASD have good research support, showing that they improve children’s language and problem-solving, as well as everyday functioning. However, they are costly and many Canadian provinces struggle with high demands for these services.

Across Canada, intervention programs for preschoolers with ASD differ in many ways, including which children are eligible, how therapy is delivered, and which government department is responsible for funding.  In order to justify spending on these programs, health and educational policy makers require evidence regarding which programs produce the best outcomes for children and families at a cost that is feasible and sustainable by governments.

Goals of the Study:

The ‘Preschool Autism Treatment Impact’ (PATI) study is the first prospective comparison of two different provincial early intervention programs for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorder (Health and Wellness in Nova Scotia and Education and Early Childhood Development in New Brunswick). The goal of the study is to compare the effectiveness of the two models and the cost-effectiveness of both provincial programs. Researchers examined children’s functional and behavioural outcomes prior to and after 12 months of intervention services with the goal of establishing the relative costs of achieving these outcomes.  Other measures included parents’ sense of self-efficacy, as well as satisfaction with the programs and early intervention providers’ satisfaction in their professional roles.

The Research Team:

The Principal Investigator of the study is Dr. Isabel Smith at the IWK’s Autism Research Centre but the research team has an impressive geographic scope. The PATI study is the first of its kind in Canada and has  assembled a team consisting of researchers with expertise in ASD, child development, longitudinal study methods,  children’s health policy, and policy makers from two provincial governments (New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). A pediatrics health economist at The Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids) in Toronto is also an integral part of the team.

Preliminary Results:

The PATI study gathered critical information in either English or French about children’s everyday functioning and behaviour, as well as the costs associated with these intervention programs services to both the public sector and to families. Data have been collected from over 300 families served by 15 teams across the two provinces. Preliminary results were presented at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in November of 2016. Video recordings of the presentations are available on YouTube:  



The PATI research team is well on its way to accomplishing its goal of disseminating research evidence to influence and improve funding, policy and practice related to early intervention services for Canadian children diagnosed with ASD. Finalized study results and academic research papers are expected  in 2017-2018.