Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Thank you for your recent article in which you share the study by Fein and colleagues of the exciting claim that some children with autism may “recover completely” (“Some With Autism Diagnosis Can Overcome Symptoms, Study Finds,” January 16, 2013). Their study is the most thorough scientific investigation to date of possible remediation from the symptoms of autism and therefore, the results are important for our consideration.
It is important for readers to be wary of the term “recovery.” Research on the outcomes of individuals with autism have varied in their definition of recovery and have generally used more cautious language, such as achieving “optimal” or “best outcomes.” Although moving off the autism spectrum is significant, residual limitations or differences may still persist, and future research is needed to characterize these possible differences. As such, we appreciate your cautioning the readers about the unsettled status of the “recovery” concept.
You also underscored the importance of early diagnosis and reported that the behavioral approach (i.e., applied behavior analysis or ABA) is the most effective intervention used today. Indeed, there is a substantial body of research developed over the past 40 years demonstrating that most children with autism who receive early intensive-behavioral intervention (one application of ABA) make clinically significant improvements, including reduction in autism severity and gains in cognitive and adaptive functioning. Researchers continue to investigate variables associated with better outcomes, both in terms of the child’s functioning and treatment implementation (e.g., intensity, methods, content).
Unfortunately, parents of children who are newly diagnosed with autism must wade through dozens of treatment options--many of which are costly, time-consuming and lack scientific validation. Often these so-called “treatments” are little more than snake oil, and their marketers claim outcomes that border on the miraculous. Persons affected by autism--and their families--deserve better. For a summary of the research of the range of treatment options and their effectiveness for individuals with autism, please visit http://asatonline.org/treatment/treatment.html.
Deborah Finkelstein, MADS, BCBA and Daniel W. Mruzek, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Fein, D., Barton, M., Eigsti, I., Kelley, E., Naigles, L., Schultz, R.T., Stevens, M., Helt, M., Orinstein, A., Rosenthal, M., Troyb, E., Tyson, K. (2013). Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54, 195-205.