A substantial number of treatments (also known as interventions or practices) exist today for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many treatments are promoted as being helpful in improving behavior, increasing language, developing social skills and addressing other symptoms of the disorder. Some treatments are even advertised as cures for autism. This information can be conflicting and confusing to parents, educators and service providers. People living with ASD and those who work with them need reliable information regarding the effectiveness of available treatments so they can make informed decisions on which treatments to pursue.
Many ASD treatments have been studied by researchers. Studies are generally designed to determine if a treatment is effective in improving one or more outcomes for individuals with ASD, such as communication skills or behavior. The best way for clinicians, educators, families and consumers to determine whether a specific treatment is effective is to study the body of research that has been published on the treatment, then make a decision about the strength of research evidence.
To determine which treatments or practices are effective in real world, clinical and research settings, scholars review numerous studies on a variety of ASD treatments. During these reviews, they evaluate the research studies according to criteria then group the treatments studied into different classifications that indicate the degree to which research evidence supports their effectiveness.
As an example, the National Standards Project, implemented by the National Autism Center, studied behavioral and educational peer-reviewed treatment literature involving individuals with ASD under age 22. Methods used in the studies were rated using a Scientific Merit Rating Scale (SMRS). Treatment effects were rated using a Treatments Effect Rating. Based on the cumulative results of combined SMRS and treatment effect ratings on individual studies, treatments were then placed into one of four classifications:
Similar to organizing principles used by other well-respected studies on ASD treatments (e.g., Simpson, et al. 2005), the National Standards Project organizes treatments into a framework that facilitates discussion and education. This framework helps to inform individuals with ASD and their families, as well as the professionals who work with them, as to which practices:
To learn more about the treatments studied by the National Standards Project and how they were categorized according to strength of research evidence, select from the menu on your left.
Please note that many organizations and investigators study available ASD treatments and may classify them somewhat differently or use different terminology than the National Standards Project. For additional information on evidence-based practices as determined by other researchers and organizations, click on the links below:
Updated: April 18, 2013