There is certainly no shortage of interventions for autism. However, not all treatment options have evidence to support them, and it is important for parents and professionals to look at the research behind various treatment options before choosing a program for their child. This will put more pressure on those who develop new interventions to base their products on existing research and to continue doing research on their products.
The National Research Council recommends early, intensive intervention for children with autism consisting of 25 hours of structured learning for each child. The difficulty for parents and professionals is choosing how to fill these hours of intervention for their child. Today, many efforts are taking place to help educate and evaluate treatment programs, but these efforts still lack the funding and the awareness to make them happen sooner rather than later.
One of the biggest problems in evaluating treatment approaches is that there is very little research comparing one approach to another or looking at combinations of interventions that might be effective. In reality, professionals typically choose a variety of treatment approaches (e.g. Discrete Trial Training + Floortime + PECS) and make their choices based on what they think might be the best fit for the child’s individual needs. Researchers need to make this type of study a priority or come to a consensus on how to evaluate treatment programs.
Another obstacle is that people on the child’s treatment team may have very different philosophical ideas about treatment making it really tough to figure out what is best for the child. Ultimately, the child’s needs are best served by the team coming to an agreement, so that the child has some consistency across treatment settings.
The ultimate way to determine if the child is getting appropriate treatment is to measure the child’s progress with each new approach that is implemented. Even less data-driven approaches must provide ways to assess how the child is doing. Objective measurements are best and you are more likely to get reliabilty among team members.
The National Standards Project is one of the best strategies for dealing with this issue - I talked about this in a previous post and am very excited about their initiative.
The Center for Evidence-Based Practices: Young Children with Challenging Behavior, which is funded by the Department of Education aims to raise awareness and implementation of positive, evidence-based practices and to build an enhanced and more accessible database to support those practices. Their mission is not specific to autism, nor should it be, but has a huge impact on the autism community if they are able to achieve the goals that they state.
They are currently conducting research to address this mission:
Research Program Emphases
- Longitudinal, multi-site study to investigate the developmental patterns, preventive factors, and predictive variables related to young children’s challenging behavior.
- Effective services and interventions for young children with challenging behavior and their families
- Administrative operations and systems variables
- Personnel preparation and utilization of evidence-based practice