Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Dear Ms. Goodwin,
Thank you for your article, “Doubt Cast on Usefulness of ‘Sensory’ Therapies for Autism” (HealthDay News, May 28, 2012). For parents of children diagnosed with autism, the decision over treatment can be a complicated one. Sadly, scientifically supported treatments for autism, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) are often overshadowed by an overabundance of treatment options that lack scientific validation of their efficacy—sensory therapies for the treatment of autism fall into this category.
Your article highlights the use of sensory equipment such as swings and brushes for the treatment of autism, cautioning parents that these techniques are largely unproven. Indeed, while anecdotal accounts may tout the use of these therapies for some children, there is a lack of adequate research to support that specific sensory techniques are effective in improving any symptoms of autism. Researchers have the duty and the expertise to test treatments for children with autism and thus, only those methods demonstrated to be safe and effective should be endorsed amid the myriad of choices a parent has to make. The implementation of untested techniques may cost a child valuable time during which they could have benefited from scientifically validated treatment approaches which are most likely to provide the greatest benefits.
You also allude to the potential benefit of sensory techniques to treat autism. We agree with the statement that this is a ripe area for research. Professionals who implement a sensory approach should collect and analyze data to evaluate treatment efficacy. This must involve defining a child’s behavior in a way that it can be observed and measured with accuracy, taking a baseline of the behavior before the implementation of a specific intervention, implementing the intervention and then removing the intervention to evaluate changes in that behavior. The technique can then be re-introduced to further establish whether or not it is effective in changing the behavior. The planned removal and reintroduction of the intervention (called a reversal design) allows the researcher to establish with more certainty whether or not the intervention was responsible for the behavior change. This systematic approach to treatment will enable parents to make a more informed decision for their loved one.
Articles like yours can be invaluable to parents raising a child with autism, as an alert to avoid wasting valuable time and money “trying on” different treatments. Parents must become such savvy consumers of treatments levied on their children, but until there is a shared commitment to conducting and disseminating results of published research to inform them, that is what they must do. We appreciate your effort in cautioning parents and professionals about the use of sensory therapy to treat autism. Thank you for your support of science in autism treatment.
Caitlin Reilly, BA
Media Review Committee, Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Daniela Fazzio, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Board Member, Association for Science in Autism Treatment