How Geography Influences Autism Treatment
There are many different treatment options for children with autism ranging from speech therapy to behavioral intervention and medication, but which ones families choose appears to depend on where they live.
A new study finds that children residing in the Northeast are most likely to have tried a variety of therapies while kids in the South are more commonly taking medications.
“Where families lived was significantly associated with treatment use,” according to findings published in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies. That’s the case even though location is “not a factor that influences symptom manifestation or treatment need,” the authors wrote.
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For the study, researchers at the University of Houston and Baylor College of Medicine looked at data on more than 2,600 families of those with autism living across the United States and in Montreal, Quebec.
All of the families were asked if their child was currently receiving — or had received since age 2 — private or school-based speech therapy, private or school-based occupational therapy, intensive behavioral therapy, biomedical treatment like a special diet or any other type of therapy to address social skills or otherwise. In addition, they were asked about any use of psychotropic medications.
Families in the Northeast were “significantly more likely” to have used school speech and occupational therapy, behavioral and biomedical treatment. Those in the West favored intensive behavioral treatment and biomedical approaches, the study found.
By contrast, Midwesterners more heavily relied on medications and less frequently used behavioral treatments. And in the South, medication use far outpaced other approaches. At the same time, families in the South and in the Montreal area were most likely to report no treatment use.
Even within regions, however, the study findings indicated that there were variations in treatment usage. For example, families in the Mid-Atlantic were far more likely to have used behavioral or biomedical interventions than their counterparts in New England, even though both areas were part of the Northeast region for purposes of the study.
Researchers said the trends in treatment use may have to do with regional differences in the frequency of autism diagnosis. The findings have implications for policymakers, service providers, schools and researchers, they said.