Evidence-based therapy for Autism

In the last years, due to the significant increase in the number of children who receive a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (recent estimates in the USA point to a prevalence of Autism of 1 in every 68 children), a high number of therapies have been developed promising improvement in the symptoms of the disorder, progress in the child’s development and often cure. Unfortunately, very few of these so called “therapies”, that are often very time-consuming and costly for families, bring the desired results.

Numerous researchers have been studying interventions that are used with children with Autism and have reached conclusions regarding their scientific evidence, efficacy but also conditions under which if implemented they can bring the desired outcomes. An example of such research was undertaken by two independent teams in 2012 (Reichow, Barton, Boyd, & Hume, 2012; Eldevik & Hastings, Jahr, Hughes, 2012) and the authors concluded that Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) resulted in children who received it reaching higher IQ scores, academic progress and adaptive behaviour, compared to the control group, as well as improved functional skills, such as language and communication skills, receptive language and independence skills. Similar conclusions were reached by another team of researchers in Canada in 2014 (Anagnostou, Zwaigenbaum, Szatmari, Fombonne, Fernandez, Woodbury-Smith, Brian, Bryson, Smith, Drmic, Buchanan, & Scherer, 2014), as well as many other researchers internationally (e.g., Dawson, Rogers, Munson, Smith, Winter, Greenson, Donaldson, & Varley, 2009; Remington, Hastings, Kovshoff, degli Espinosa, Jahr, Brown, Alsford,, Lemaic, & Ward, 2007).

It is noteworthy that even when researchers compared behaviour analytic or ABA-based therapy with eclectic treatment, i.e., treatment that integrates several approaches simultaneously (e.g., ΑΒΑ together with sensory integration therapy, TEACCH, Floortime, special diet, massage and other), ABA-based therapy is more effective. A plausible explanation for this is that eclectic treatments reduce the time children spend in activities that really help them develop their skills (Dillenburger, 2011; Howard, Sparkman, Cohen, Green, Stanislaw, 2005).

With these facts, a number of international institutions, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (2007) and Surgeon General (1999) in the USA, as well as many independent institutions in other countries have published clear guidelines regarding the intervention that has to be followed when a child receives the diagnosis of Autism pointing towards Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI) or as it is commonly known ABA-based intervention.

Nowadays, many countries (e.g., USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom and other) fund ABA-based therapy provided it is designed and supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) who guarantees scientific knowledge and the therapeutic. Funding can be accessed either through the national health system or by issuing guidelines to private insurance companies for ABA coverage.

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