While early intervention is widely considered the best course of action for kids with autism, evidence to support current treatment approaches remains moderate at best, new research finds.
In an assessment of past research on autism interventions, officials from the RAND Corporation said they found that treatments tackling everything from socialization to language, behavior and adaptive skills in people with autism show insufficient to moderate support. The findings are based on a review of over 100 studies of interventions used with children or adolescents with autism.
“We reviewed the evidence that exists for widely used interventions for autism and found there was no more than moderate evidence demonstrating the benefits of any of the approaches,” said Margaret Maglione, a policy analyst at RAND and the lead author of the study which was published in the journal Pediatrics. “What’s needed are new, well-designed studies that are large enough to tease out the effects of different components and which types of children are best suited for the interventions.”
An approach with moderate evidence may be debunked with further investigation, researchers said, whereas an intervention that has a high level of evidence is unlikely to later be found inadequate.
While no treatment reviewed received an endorsement greater than moderate, some techniques including applied behavioral analysis and the Picture Exchange Communication System have enough evidence to support their use, the study found. Meanwhile, results show insufficient support for augmentative and alternative communication devices and indicate that there’s moderate evidence that auditory integration training does not work.
The fact that no autism intervention was found to have a high level of support shows the need for additional research both to compare different treatment models head-to-head and to track kids long-term after they participate in early intervention, the study indicates.
Even still, the expert panel behind the review said that kids with autism should have access to 25 hours per week or more of treatment to address social communication, language, play skills and maladaptive behavior.