By Matthew Guggemos MS, CCC-SLP
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diagnoses of autism continue to escalate. Currently, the prevalence of autism is 11 children for every 1,000 births — which amount to about one autism diagnosis out of 68 newborns. This means that there are numerous families coping with a new autism diagnosis every day. The numbers of children with ASD are increasing; thus, parents, educators, and professionals must work together in order to provide, study, or implement quality, evidence-based services that expand communication skills, increase independence, and improve quality of life.
Although scientists have not pinpointed the exact causes of ASD, many believe that an intricate interaction between environmental influences and genetic predisposition may be responsible for the steadily increasing prevalence rate. These are preliminary hypotheses, however, and there needs to be further investigation to verify if these factors are indeed catalysts for ASD.
There are, on the other hand, numerous studies that have found effective, evidence-based interventions that can provide treatment for those with ASD. According to the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASD treatments must establish efficacy through published research in one of the following formats:
- Randomized or quasi-experimental design studies
- Single-subject design studies
- Combination of evidence
In short, ASD treatments must be replicable: that is, educators and professionals who use a published evidence-based intervention should expect similar outcomes. Each person with ASD is unique — yet treatment outcomes should not be. For example, if the results of a communication intervention vary wildly from person to person, it suggests that this approach is unreliable.
Using scientifically unsubstantiated treatment approaches has a broad impact on people with ASD: interventions cost both time and money. Time is crucial, as children with ASD are slow to reach many developmental milestones — so each day can expand the gap between neurotypical peers and those with ASD. Additionally, treatments are expensive. Many families struggle with the colossal financial commitment it takes to provide speech therapy, occupational therapy, or behavioral services. So treatments that have a high cost in time and money — but yield few measurable results — can increase financial and scheduling burdens and delay the development of functional skills such as communication or social interaction.
What about new and emerging treatments such as touch screen technology? Yes, touch screen technology such as the iPad can be used to support EBP. Lois Jean Brady created a table to illustrate how apps can support evidence based practice.
As part of Autism Awareness Month, we professionals, parents, and educators must work together to find interventions that work. Although the specific causes of autism are still unclear, there are scientifically substantiated interventions that produce reliable and replicable treatment outcomes for those with ASD. Working as a team, we can implement interventions that have met the standards of evidence-based practice and research promising new treatments that will provide dependable treatment outcomes for those with autism.