As a wave of kids with autism enter the transition stage, strikingly little is known about the best interventions for teens and young adults with the disorder, a new analysis finds.
In a review of more than 4,500 studies on autism interventions published between 1980 and 2011, Vanderbilt University researchers found just 32 focused on therapies for people ages 13 to 30. And among the small number of existing studies, many were poorly done, according to the analysis released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
“Overall, there is very little evidence in all areas of care for adolescents and young adults with autism, and it is urgent that more rigorous studies be developed and conducted,” said Melissa McPheeters, director of Vanderbilt’s Evidence-Based Practice Center and senior author of the report.
Research on a wide range of interventions including medical, behavioral, educational and vocational were included in the review.
Overall, results from the existing literature found few gains from medical interventions for teens and young adults with autism, though antipsychotics were beneficial for reducing some problem behaviors.
There was some evidence to suggest that treatment could boost socialization and educational skills like vocabulary and reading but most studies were small, the analysis found.
When it comes to vocational training — a critical area for transition — just five studies focused on preparing young adults with autism for the work world. While all of the research showed promising results, the Vanderbilt team said that each existing study was flawed, leading to questions about the validity of any conclusions.
“There are growing numbers of adolescents and adults with autism in need of substantial support. Without a stronger evidence base, it is very hard to know which interventions will yield the most meaningful outcomes for individuals with autism and their families,” said Zachary Warren of Vanderbilt who worked on the report.