Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Dear Ms. Latzke:
We would first like to thank you for sharing such an interesting story in your article, “Family uses agriculture as autism therapy tool” (High Plains Journal, June 24, 2013). It was fascinating to read about how one family was able to bring support not only to their daughter but also to a whole community! Working with and training professionals and educators and engaging in advocacy and autism awareness are incredibly important endeavors, particularly in underserved regions such as rural America. With that said, we do wish to bring up a concern. It is important that your readers understand that there has been no published research demonstrating the effectiveness of agriculture as a therapy modality for autism.
You mention that the family began using agriculture as a “therapy tool” for their daughter. The word “therapy” tends to be used in recent years to describe a seemingly increasing array of strategies that are touted to treat autism. This single word can be very misleading to parents of children with autism looking for treatment options.
Allow us to use a different venue to further elucidate our concern. Imagine a family that owned an automotive business and carved out meaningful opportunities for their daughter with autism to learn some tasks, carry them out independently, engage in a wide array of frequent interactions with customers (e.g., greeting them, bringing them coffee, letting them know when their vehicle’s service is complete). The daughter may be highly interested in cars and such motivation may further increase the overall quality of the experience. Nevertheless, it would still be a stretch to call this skill broadening experience “automotive therapy.”
Working in the community can be very beneficial for children and adults with autism by helping them learn critical social, motor and daily living skills. However, one should use caution when attaching words such as “therapy” if there has not been the proper amount of research done to demonstrate the effectiveness of a particular approach being used for treatment. One type of therapy that is science-based is applied behavior analysis. More than 50 years of research have demonstrated how effective ABA is in the treatment for autism. Applied behavior analysis encompasses a wide array of powerful, scientifically-validated teaching procedures that can make any experience more effective in achieving desirable outcomes--whether it be on a farm or even in an auto body shop.
We wanted to leave your readers with a link to help them better differentiate between so-called “therapies” and interventions that have proven therapeutic outcomes. This article further discusses some faulty assumptions related to this very topic: (http://asatonline.org/resources/underwater.htm).
Thank you again for sharing this important story.
Mark Sullivan, BA and David Celiberti, PhD., BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment