Are Autism Treatments Effective? The Jury is Still Out.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University recently completed a review of 32 studies published between January 1980 and December 2011. The studies focused on participants ages 13 to 30 with autism spectrum disorders. The researchers examined the outcomes, adverse effects, and medical, behavioral, educational, and vocational interventions. The news was not particularly encouraging.
The researchers found insufficient evidence to support either efficacy or failure of intervention programs and concluded that more rigorous studies are necessary.
Autism is undeniably on the rise.
In the 1970s, autism was estimated as affecting 1 in 2,000 children. That number has been drastically revised. New numbers from the CDC put the number at one child in 88, with a much higher incidence in boys…5 to 1…which means that one in just 54 boys in the U.S. has autism. That is a dizzying escalation in only a few generations.
No one really knows what causes autism. There are plenty of theories that range from genetic causes to an unfounded theory popular with some parents that the Mumps-Measles-Rubella (MMR) vaccine is responsible. Even though the medical community has soundly debunked this theory, it continues to linger, endangering children of parents afraid to have their children vaccinated.
A few causes have been identified but cannot account for all cases. There is a genetic factor in some cases; families with one autistic child have a greater chance of having another autistic child. It is suspected that autism may be related to an immune system disorder, but a direct connection has yet to be established. Other potential causes are Depakote, an anti-seizure medication given to women during pregnancy, and rare several genetic disorders. The bottom line is that while there is plenty of information, finding a definitive cause has been impossible.
The need for new therapies.
What does this mean for SLPs? The news was not all neutral. There was some evidence from small studies that showed improved social skills, better vocabulary, and reading educational outcomes.
What may be significant is that none of these studies are new enough to look at therapies using the latest touch screen technologies and the increasing availability of intervention. Perhaps thirty years from today, researchers will find the differences we’re hoping for. The need for clinical studies is clear and imminent. What can you do? Take initiative, get involved, volunteer, advocate, and keep careful records. Share your successes. You don’t have to be a clinical researcher to make a difference.