Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Setting the Standard for Autism Treatments: National Autism Center Releases Groundbreaking Report

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Setting the Standard for Autism Treatments: National Autism Center Releases Groundbreaking Report

Article excerpt

In the United States and throughout the world, our understanding of autism and other related disorders continues to evolve. Parents, educators, and health professionals today benefit from significant advancements in both the diagnosis and treatment of autism. Five decades of research have increased our knowledge of these complex developmental disabilities and led to a broad range of treatments.

The need to evaluate and select from this long list of treatment options can be daunting, however. The good news is that information is available to help us focus on the treatments or interventions that have evidence of effectiveness.

Diagnosis is the Beginning

It is a scenario that plays out in countless homes across the country each year. A very young child begins showing signs of possible developmental delays. Or a child who has been meeting typical milestones seems to stop learning new skills, or begins to lose skills. Over time, parents realize that something is "not quite right."

A family that sets out to discover the root cause of these symptoms may encounter a number of obstacles along the way, including conflicting opinions, long waiting lists for assessments, a lack of qualified practitioners, and possible misdiagnosis. For some of these families, the eventual diagnosis will be autism or a related Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The impact of the diagnosis is overwhelming to most and often reverberates throughout the lifetime. An ASD diagnosis will require significant time, energy, commitment, and resources. For many parents, it will be the first step in gathering the critical information they will need to help their children grow and develop.

Selecting Effective Treatments

"We absolutely did not know where to begin," says Rebecca Woodcock, a special needs teacher from Massachusetts whose son Gavin was diagnosed with autism last summer when he was two-and-a-half years old. The only recommendation from the doctor at the hospital was to call an agency that provided applied behavior analysis, or ABA. The doctor did not explain ABA or what it entailed.

"We joined our local support group, where they talked about all sorts of unconventional, bio-medical treatments," Rebecca continues. "I wanted to try hyperbaric oxygen therapy. My husband Matt is a scientist and approached our search for treatment from a research-based point of view. We agreed that if the clinic could provide research that showed the treatment worked, we would spend the money (thousands) on the therapy." She and Matt asked for documentation, but never received it. "That's when I realized that there may be lots of 'treatments' out there making claims they can't support. That was very disappointing, because they seemed like 'quicker fixes.'"

"I did Internet searches and listened to advice from everyone," says Rebecca. "It is a horrible feeling to not know how to help your child."

The sheer volume of information available presents a formidable challenge. Along with the dramatic increase in diagnosed cases in recent years--the newest estimates place the incidence rate as low as one in 100 children--there has been an explosion in the number of potential treatments.

A simple search on the Internet for "autism treatment" yields an astounding 1,740,000 results. "Autism intervention" is even more daunting, producing more than three million results. Parents like Rebecca and Matt are often inundated with conflicting and confusing information about treatments. It is almost impossible to know where to begin.

The National Standards Project

In 2005, the National Autism Center launched a project that it hoped would answer one of the most pressing public health questions of our time--how do we effectively treat individuals with ASD? If done well, the results would help guide families like Rebecca and Matt in their quest to find the best treatment for their son by providing information about which treatments have been shown to work. …

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