Interventions designed to improve core deficits in children with autism spectrum disorders are supported by varying levels of evidence, highlighting the need for well-designed studies to better evaluate the interventions, according to a new RAND Corporation study.
Researchers found that when they evaluated the past research on a wide variety of interventions aimed at improving core deficits in social/communication, language, behavior and adaptive skills, the evidence of efficacy ranged from moderate to insufficient. The findings are published in the November edition of the journal Pediatrics.
"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, the study's lead author and a policy analyst at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "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."
The study concludes that head-to-head trials of competing autism treatments are needed to identify which programs are superior and additional work should follow study participants long-term to further examine the effectiveness of treatments.
Researchers conducted the project by closely examining information from more than 100 studies that contained at least 10 children or adolescents. The information was reviewed by an expert panel of practitioners, researchers and parents assembled to systematically evaluate the level of evidence for a wide array of behavioral autism treatments and develop priorities for future research.
The expert panel agreed there was enough evidence to endorse the use of applied behavioral analysis, integrated behavioral/developmental programs, the Picture Exchange Communication System and various social skills interventions for Asperger's syndrome and high-functioning autism. In addition, they agreed that children with autism spectrum disorders should have access to at least 25 hours per week of comprehensive interventions (often called "intensive early intervention") to address social communication, language, play skills and maladaptive behavior.
No treatment was supported by evidence considered stronger than "moderate." Treatments in this category are supported by reasonable evidence, but include the caveat that further research may change the confidence about the results. In contrast, a treatment supported by a high level of evidence is unlikely to be changed by further research.