The Abecedarian Approach to Social, Educational, and Health Disparities

Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2018 Dec;21(4):527-544. doi: 10.1007/s10567-018-0260-y.


This paper places the Abecedarian Approach in theoretical and historical context and reviews the results from three randomized controlled trials that have tested an experimental protocol designed to prevent cognitive disabilities and their social consequences. Results affirm that cognitive disabilities can be prevented in early childhood and subsequent academic achievement enhanced via a multipronged comprehensive approach that contains individualized and responsive early childhood education starting in early infancy, coupled with pediatric health care, good nutrition, and family-oriented social services. Additional important findings reveal that the most vulnerable children benefited the most and that cognitive gains were not at the expense of children's socioemotional development or relationship to family. In general, mothers derived benefits in education and employment and teenage mothers especially benefited from their children participating in the early education treatment group. On the whole, the overall pattern of results supports a multidisciplinary, individualized, and long-term longitudinal perspective on human development and prevention science. Recent structural and functional brain imaging in the fifth decade of life shows persistent effects of intensive early educational treatment. Independent recent cost-benefit analysis in adulthood reveals a 7.3:1 return on investment with a 13.7% average annual rate of return. The paper concludes with a discussion of implications of the Abecedarian Approach to today's high-risk population in the USA.

Keywords: Conceptual framework; Disparities; Early childhood education; Early development; Prevention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Early Intervention, Educational / methods*
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care*
  • Young Adult