Too often parents living with autism don’t feel qualified to know which intervention is right for their child with autism. How do you pick from the alphabet soup presented to you online or from professionals? Regardless what you’re looking into – educational supports, professional therapy or in-home interventions, it’s always good to know that there is evidence that they are effective. With all the hype about what works, who should you listen to: other parents? teachers? therapists? How do you decide what might work for your child, your family?
It’s overwhelming, but this recent publication should help with the process – Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was done by the Autism Evidence-Based Practice Review Group through the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Find a copy here. It provides a useful tool for understanding which practices have the data to support the label of “evidence-based.” So what exactly does that mean and why is it important?
The review looked at 456 studies to identify interventions that are effective in promoting positive outcomes for individuals with autism. The majority of those studied were children between the ages of 6 and 11 years, with preschool-aged children (3–5 years) also participating in many studies. A few studies included children below three years of age. The research focused on outcomes associated with the core symptoms of autism: social, communication, and challenging behaviors. We were pleased to see that the researchers focused on communication and social outcomes most frequently, followed closely by challenging behaviors. Play and joint attention were also reported in many studies. Those two areas are critical in building a relationship with your child.
The publication discussed the research in detail, offering an explanation of how decisions were made in the review process. The result identified 27 evidenced-based practices that can be used by therapists, teachers, and parents. A complete list of the 27 can be seen on Table 7 of the report which is found on page 20 of the report. It came as no surprise that many are well know practices like discrete trial instruction, task analysis, functional behavior assessment, prompting, and reinforcement. Many educators and ABA therapists have used all of these interventions.
It is also important to note practices that are new to the list because there is finally sufficient evidence through research to raise them to the level of “evidence-based.” These are scripting, social narratives, structured play groups, exercise, cognitive behavior intervention, parent implemented intervention, visual supports, video modeling, and naturalistic intervention. Many of these interventions have been used by schools and in family homes with good results for years because people found they helped children understand and live successfully with their families. CEA is delighted to see parent implemented intervention added to the evidence-based list. This affirms our commitment to helping children with autism through their parents.
The publication also listed interventions that were promising but lacked sufficient evidence because the research focused on a single group or did not have enough subjects to qualify as evidenced-based. Among those were direct instruction and auditory integration training. Some other interventions were listed as promising but lacked enough evidence at this time. This might change in future years if more studies are done. On this list were theory of mind training, sensory integration therapy, music therapy, and sensory diets.
One of the most useful aspects of the publication is the fact sheets on each intervention. The fact sheets describe the intervention, the outcomes, and the research done, summing it all up in a convenient, bite-size package for busy parents. You can use much of this information to engage your child and to enrich your family life. It is encouraging to see the growing body of evidence to support effective practices for families living with autism.