Monday, June 06, 2011
With regard to the article entitled "Complexities of Autism Extend to Its Treatment" (May 27, 2011), we commend Mr. Thompson for highlighting the struggle parents confront when identifying interventions for their children with autism.
Mr. Thompson reports on several key considerations central to any discussion regarding autism treatment: 1) early identification and intervention sets the occasion for optimal treatment benefits; 2) treatment should be tailored to the unique needs of the individual with autism and his or her family; and 3) the application of applied behavior analytic (ABA) interventions has helped many children with autism.
Indeed, a large number of ABA-based interventions for persons with autism have a solid foundation in the scientific literature. Most ABA approaches, including those found in early intensive behavioral intervention for children with autism, offer the structure thought to be most beneficial for persons with autism, including breaking skills down into component steps, judicious fading of assistance to promote independence, the use of reinforcement to strengthen skilled behavior, the generalization of new skills and ongoing data analysis to guide next steps.
Unfortunately, persons with autism and their families are confronted with a bewildering number of intervention options. Though many legitimate products and services exist, some marketers make it their business to know how to raid family budgets by hawking treatment that are scientifically unsubstantiated, ineffective and, in some cases, dangerous.
Faced with aggressive and, in some cases, disingenuous marketing tactics, how can families and persons with autism confidently investigate possible treatments? One way is to ask the marketer: "What is the scientific evidence that this treatment is effective?" A legitimate marketer will appreciate the question and accurately report the state of the science; however other marketers will not be forthcoming in their response and, instead, rely on testimonials and deceptive research claims to state their case. Buyers beware!
A second strategy families can utilize is speaking to a trusted professional with an understanding of the scientific background of the treatment in question. The professional can report on the state of the scientific evidence with regard to a treatment under consideration, or recommend others who are more knowledgeable in a specific area.
A third option for families investigating potential autism treatments is to go directly to trusted resources. For example, the Maine Department of Education has a well written report on the "State of the Evidence" in various autism treatments available at www.maine.gov/dhhs/ocfs/cbhs/ebpac/asd-report.doc
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment maintains a library of regularly updated scientific treatment summaries at http://www.asatonline.org/intervention/autismtreatments.htm. Resources such as the Maine report and ASAT's treatment summaries provide a "quick reference" option that allows families to investigate interventions and services they see marketed on-line or in other media.
Persons with autism and their families have a right to know the "state of the science" for treatments they are considering. They should not have to rely on hyped information provided by merchandisers for decisions regarding treatments options.
Mruzek, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Board Member, Association for Science in Autism Treatment