Your child, or one that you know, has been given a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now what? As you turn to friends, family, and the internet for answers, you might find yourself overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to help your child. After all, a simple Google search of the term “autism treatment” brings up over 44 million results! As ASD has become more and more common in the population, many therapies and treatments that claim to treat or even “cure” autism have exploded onto the scene. Commonly, parents and concerned loved ones ask questions such as, “Which treatment is right for my child?”, “How do I know it will work?”, and “Can my child be cured of his/her autism?” The good news is that there are proven, high-quality treatments that have been shown to greatly improve difficulties associated with autism for many individuals. The bad news is that these treatments can sometimes be difficult to find, access, and pay for.
Adding to many families’ confusion is that there many advertised “treatments” that are not supported by science, and that can even be dangerous. These pseudo-treatments often have the appearance of science, technology, and medicine, and many are endorsed by doctors. They might even make claims that they can cure autism, sometimes relatively quickly and easily. It is important to know that although there is much promising research currently being conducted on the causes (and as such, the potential cures) of ASD, there currently exists no “cure”, or method to remove all symptoms of autism completely. Therefore, it is important to be wary of any advertised therapy or treatment for autism that makes claims that seem “too good to be true”.
When figuring out which treatments and/or therapies to pursue for an individual with ASD, it is important for caregivers to seek out evidence-based interventions. When a treatment is “evidence-based”, it means that there is scientific evidence that the particular treatment has been effective with individuals with ASD. This does not mean the treatment has been shown to cure autism or completely remove all symptoms. It also doesn’t mean that the particular treatment is guaranteed to help every person with ASD. However, treatments that are evidence-based have been studied scientifically and have been shown to produce positive results.
By choosing an evidence-based treatment for your child with ASD, you can be confident that the treatment has the best possible chance of helping your child be successful. Every family has limited time, financial resources, and emotional energy to devote to therapies for an individual with autism. Therefore, it is important to maximize the impact of those resources by dedicating them to a treatment that has been proven to produce favorable outcomes. For every bit of time, money, and energy that is dedicated to an unproven, un-studied, or even harmful therapy, there is fewer time, money, and energy available to put towards a more established treatment. Therefore, one of the most important questions a parent or concerned loved one can ask regarding treatment options for an individual with ASD is, “Is this treatment/therapy/intervention evidence-based?”
When seeking to find evidence-based interventions for an individual with ASD, caregivers should feel comfortable asking providers about the research support for their treatments. Any provider of a treatment claiming to help individuals with autism should be able to discuss the science behind their treatment, as well as the treatment’s limitations. If a provider cannot answer these questions, caregivers could consider this a potential “red flag”. Additionally, there are several helpful resources to help guide caregivers seeking evidence-based treatments. One is through Autism Speaks, an organization that seeks to help caregivers navigate the world of autism diagnosis, treatment, and research. Autism Speaks has put together a document that provides helpful information regarding specific autism treatments. Another resource is through The National Autism Center (NAC). The NAC has completed a project called the National Standards Project specifically to conduct research on treatments for ASD. The NAC released a revised report in 2015 that classifies autism treatments based on the strength of their available evidence. The report can be found here.
For more on interventions that we know work for ASD, check out my blog post on Effective Interventions.