A Review of The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments (2nd edition)

Freeman, S. K. (2011). The complete guide to autism treatments. A parent’s handbook: Make sure your child gets what works! (2nd edition) Bellingham, WA: SKF Books, Inc.

Reviewed by

David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D
Carolyn J. Sniezyk, MS, BCBA

The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments (Second Edition)

Just when we think we have seen everything, we are reminded that with autism treatments anything and everything is possible, particularly given that many individuals have recognized that autism treatment can be a very lucrative business. The array of treatments for autism is indeed quite diverse and includes treatments that are downright dangerous and can be absolutely overwhelming when taken together. Thankfully, there is a book available to help parents and other consumers with this laborious task while also helping them to develop the skills needed to differentiate science from pseudoscience and viable options from nonsense.

The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments Second Edition is comprehensive, thoroughly researched, and well organized. Throughout, Dr. Freeman communicates a critically important message: individuals with autism deserve access to science-based treatment – their time, their potential, and the overall resources of their families should not be wasted. As will be detailed below, Dr. Freeman shares her perspectives as a mother, which further contributes to the authenticity of this book, and may appeal to parents who may be more receptive to the cautionary words of one who walks in their shoes.

The second edition of The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments begins with a forward by Dr. Richard M. Foxx which details the importance and quality of the book in addition to a well-written summary of the content. Following the forward, the reader will find that the book is divided into two primary sections. Section I is organized around topics related to the various treatments for autism. Section II highlights basic concepts about science, hypothesis testing, and research methodology. Each of these will be discussed below.

Section I begins with a review of behavior-analytic treatments for autism across home and school settings, as well as within the area of early intervention. The various offshoots of applied behavior analysis are also summarized and evaluated (e.g., intensive behavioral treatments, pivotal response training, positive behavior supports, verbal behavior therapy, and fluency training). Then there is a fairly comprehensive subsection related to the myriad of non-behavioral treatments, including those that occur in school, as well as those that are child-initiated or parent-facilitated. These subsections are followed by biomedical therapies, speech and language therapies, and ultimately, a final section for miscellaneous therapies not better categorized in the above subsections. Each of these subsections is divided, and in some cases divided further, in an effort to capture the more frequently-touted treatments for autism. Each of these treatment subsections is organized around responses to a series of 8-9 questions.

  1. These questions are applied to each treatment discussed (see table at end of the review).
  2. Section II, titled “How do we know what works and what doesn’t?” focuses on the scientific method, hypothesis testing, and research methodology. At times, the content may seem somewhat dense, but that speaks more to the complex nature of scientific inquiry than to Dr. Freeman’s writing style. These more technical sections are preceded by a number of caveats empowering parents to question the “experts” whom they will undoubtedly encounter over the course of their child’s treatment. There is considerable attention paid to the components of research, data interpretation, and analysis of a study, as well as descriptions of many all-too-common red flags in autism treatment.
  3. Section II also includes an afterword which provides information regarding how the literature review was conducted for the second edition, some conclusions regarding the more recent research that was used to update this publication, and a review of new therapies that have gained popularity since the first edition. Section II ends with 54 pages of references!

This book has many notable strengths.

  1. The format of nine recurring questions within Section I provides a predictable framework for the reader. In fact, Dr. Freeman’s careful analysis of the state of the research underlying specific applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatments is offered in the same spirit and with the same diligence as the non-behavior analytic treatments.
  2. Proponents of the various treatments would benefit from careful consideration of the suggestions offered in the “What kind of study would I like researchers to do?” section. Far too often, a single study is put forth as validation of an entire treatment and all of its theoretical and conceptual underpinnings. The reader will find that Dr. Freeman has individualized her recommendations based on each treatment’s existing research history. Execution of these research agendas may enable a number of treatments to live up to their promises.
  3. Perhaps of greatest significance is that the author is writing from the dual perspectives of professional and parent. When speaking as a parent, her commitment to science is unwavering, and appropriately so; she is unapologetic in sharing her perspective as an informed mother. This is greatly needed at a time when many individuals fear being perceived as close-minded or unwilling to recognize the contributions of other disciplines. Her professional perspective only adds further credence to her stance regarding treatment options. There are wonderful insights throughout the book which will make this resource useful to those who will tend to read this book a few parts at a time. For instance, there is a very interesting discussion at the beginning of the book about participation in research with the caveat that precious time and resources should never be wasted on low-quality research, for not all research is created equally.

In summary, we believe The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments is a much needed contribution to the field of autism. The diligence and comprehensiveness of the various treatment reviews make this book an important “go-to” resource for parents and professionals alike. Undoubtedly this is a resource that the reader can expect to pick up time and time again.

For more information about The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments, as well as other books written by Dr. Freeman, please visit www.skfbooks.com.

Questions applied to the treatments highlighted in Dr. Freeman’s book:

“What is______?”
Dr. Freeman defines the treatment, highlights its purpose or intent with respect to autism, and describes its rationale and theoretical underpinnings. The proponent’s more significant hypotheses about autism’s etiology and treatment are often described as well.

“What evidence do the practitioners have that this really works?”
Dr. Freeman summarizes and evaluates peer-reviewed research and other possible sources of support (e.g., anecdotal evidence). She reports the results of database searches and is often quite explicit about numbers of articles that fall into categories (e.g., non-published studies, pamphlets, published in peer-reviewed journals, published in non peer-reviewed journals).

“What does this therapy actually look like?”
Dr. Freeman describes, often in great detail, the actual procedures associated with the treatment. This information is essential, as many consumers know little about the therapies to which they are subjecting their children. These descriptions are written in an objective, non-partial manner which, when read in isolation, would not necessarily reveal the author’s stance on a particular treatment. Information about side effects and/or adverse effects is provided when warranted.

“Would I try it on my child?”
In contrast to the objective and factual tone of her responses to the questions above, here Dr. Freeman offers a more personal take on the treatment: a take that is honest and at times, blunt. Clearly, every child with autism is different, and thus, treatment decisions need to be made in consideration of those differences. Even if readers disagree with Dr. Freeman’s position, they will appreciate the candor and thoughtfulness of her position as a fellow parent.

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Celiberti, D. & Sniezyk, C. (2016). Book review: The complete guide to Autism treatments. 2nd Edition. [Review of the book The Complete Guide to Autism Treatments, by S. Freeman]. Science in Autism Treatment, 13(1), 10-12.