Autism-Solving the Puzzle

Article excerpt

Autism is the one disability everyone knows about; there may be no hotter topic today in public debate or professional discourse. We are deluged with information from media and celebrities, special interest groups and advocacy organizations, and nonprofit and forprofit agencies. Everyone seems to know (and probably has an opinion) about controversies such as whether an increased incidence of autism is due to better diagnosis or childhood vaccinations, how behaviors can be managed by positive behavior supports or avoiding food additives, and if the condition can be "cured" by intensive interventions like discrete trial training or alternative treatments such as dolphin therapy or holistic medicine. The unique combination of unusual special talents and significant functional limitations exhibited by many individuals with autism fascinates us. To depict the mystery and complexity associated with the condition, the Autism Society of America designed an "autism awareness" ribbon that represents autism as a puzzle with multicolored pieces.

In the midst of all the media hype and professional controversy, where does special education fit? When the inspiring personal stories, rousing fundraisers, glowing rhetoric, and heated debates are over, educators and families are still faced with the task of providing effective educational programs for this remarkably diverse group of students and their complex array of special needs. How do we identify interventions that are safe and sound and likely to be successful from among the wide array of methods and treatments and therapies? How do we select (and help families choose) those that work and avoid those that are untested, unproven, expensive, and time-consuming - as well as sometimes potentially dangerous? What are the best sources of information on evidence-based practices and interventions tailored to the needs of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?

The Council for Exceptional Children's Ethical Principles for Special Educators (2010) states that special educators must be committed to using "evidence, instructional data, research and professional knowledge to inform practice" (f 7). CEC provides guidelines for evidence-based practices at http://www.cec.sped.org; follow the link for Professional Standards. A decade ago, the National Research Council (2001) published Educating Children With Autism, which highlighted the central role of individualized, behavior analysis-based interventions combined with peer modeling and supplemented wim augmentative and alternative strategies and related services therapies. Several years later, the National Autism Center assembled a team of experts to review the literature and identify treatments with an adequate research base to be considered effective. …