Behavior specialist Lamar Williams conducts a therapy session at an autism center in Prestonsburg, Ky. A new review finds more evidence backing behavioral intervention for kids with autism. (John Flavell/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

Behavior specialist Lamar Williams conducts a therapy session at an autism center in Prestonsburg, Ky. A new review finds more evidence backing behavioral intervention for kids with autism. (John Flavell/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

A new government-backed review finds that there is substantially more evidence for behavior therapy in treating autism than even just a few years ago.

In a report released this month, Vanderbilt University researchers combed research journals to assess what’s known about the effectiveness of behavioral interventions for children with autism through age 12. The review, produced for the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is an update to a 2011 report.

Since that time, there has been a significant uptick in quality studies looking at the impact of various behavioral interventions, the researchers said. The current review assessed 65 studies of which 19 were considered to be good quality. By comparison, just two of the 45 studies on behavioral interventions included in the 2011 report met that threshold.

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In particular, early intervention that is intensive and based on the principles of applied behavior analysis “can significantly affect the development of some children with ASD,” the report found.

Beyond ABA-based therapies, the researchers indicated that training programs for moms and dads did improve parenting behaviors, but there was less evidence regarding the impact on children’s development. Cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills interventions and play-based approaches also have some support, the review indicated.

“We are finding more solid evidence, based on higher quality studies, that these early intensive behavioral interventions can be effective for young children on the autism spectrum, especially related to their cognitive and language skills,” said Amy Weitlauf of Vanderbilt who led the review. “But the individual response to these treatments often varies from child to child.”

More research is needed to better understand why some children with autism are more receptive than others to various interventions, Weitlauf said.