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More Autism Therapies Prove their Worth

New review of autism interventions identifies 27 with solid scientific evidence of benefits; up from 24 in 2008
January 30, 2014

A review of more than 29,000 studies identified 27 autism therapies as worthy to be called "evidence-based." This is up from 24 autism therapies that the authors identified as solidly backed by research in their first review, published in 2008.

The report – Evidence-based Practices for Children, Youth and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder – was published earlier this month by UNC’s National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Cognitive behavior therapy, video modeling and social scripting were among the approaches added to the “evidence-based” category in the new report. The authors also noted strong new support for technology-aided instruction and interventions for individuals with autism. Many of these programs use assisted-communication devices such as iPads.

The authors also describe applying more stringent criteria in their 2014 review. As a consequence, they dropped one therapy program – “structured work systems” – from their list.

“It’s important to have clear communication about which interventions have a scientific research base so that parents can seek out the most effective treatments for their child,” comments child psychologist Lauren Elder, Autism Speaks assistant director for dissemination science. Dr. Elder was not involved in the review.

The UNC researchers also noted the important role that effective therapies play in reducing autism’s financial burden on families and society. In particular, they cited two Autism Speaks-funded studies: The first calculated that autism incurs an average lifetime cost of $2.3 million per person. The second indicated that effective early intervention can reduce this cost by two-thirds.

Call for more research on teens and adults
While welcoming the increase in rigorously tested autism therapies, the investigators noted a persistent lag in research beyond the preschool and grade-school years. In particular, they flagged a dire need for more evidence-based programs for teens and adults.  This is particularly important to help individuals achieve maximum independence and quality of life.

Finally, the researchers welcomed the recent increase in evidence-based early intervention programs for toddlers. They urged more research on the effectiveness of these programs.

The full report – Evidence-based Practices for Children, Youth and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder – is available free of charge here.