Rather than re-invent the wheel and post a bunch of different specific interventions for assisting students with autism, below I have provided a link to Lindgren & Doobay’s (2011) “Evidence-Based Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders.” This resource also refers to The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (http://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/), which also has a page on best practices that may be valuable.
This vast resource (24 pages) includes information on:
- Defining ASD
- Assessing ASD
- Interventions: Promising, Limited, and Not Recommended
Significant evidence suggests that Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is effective for students with autism, specifically including Discrete Trial Training, Functional Communication Training, Pivotal Response Training, and Antecedent Based Interventions.
Other effective interventions are early intensive interventions, social skills training, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and medication (depending on symptoms, not a cure). Communication Devices (Augmentative/Alternative) and Picture-Exchange Communication Systems also have a plethora of evidence supporting these systems of communication, along with visual supports, modeling, and computer-aided instruction.
Some promising interventions include play therapy, developmental relationship-based treatment, and supportive therapy (e.g. music, pet, massage therapy). Interventions with limited support include sensory integration, auditory integration therapy, specific diets, and facilitated communication.
Sensory integration in particular surprised me as a limited intervention, given its widespread use, and it was considered complementary and without objective findings, though it may be helpful as a way to calm or reinforce the child’s desired behaviors. Since the publishing of this resource, this debate has continued. Lang et al. (2012) found that “the current evidence-base does not support the use of SIT in the education and treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders” (p. 1004), though Case-Smith and Schaaf (2013) offered a rebuttal, and one randomized-control trial, albeit small (N=17 with autism, 15 in control), showed significantly positive impact of SIT on a Goal Attainment Scaling outcome measure (Schaaf et al., 2014). This study concluded that “this study provides evidence that this intervention may be a useful adjunct to a comprehensive intervention program for individuals with ASD who have functional and behavioral challenges related to difficulty processing and integrating of sensory information” (Schaaf et al., 2014, p. 1504). Overall, this intervention is widespread, but for now is considered too controversial for its own post on this site.
Interventions that are NOT recommended include holding therapy, secretin, and chelation for neurotoxicity.
A link to this document is here:
OR (as links tend to change over time):
Case-Smith, J., & Schaaf, R. (2013). Response to systematic review of sensory integration therapy for autism spectrum disorders. Retrieved from http://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Practice/Children/Response-to-Research-in-Autism.ashx.
Lang, R., O’Reilly, M., Healy, O., Rispoli, M., Lydon, H., Streusand, W., … & Didden, R. (2012). Sensory integration therapy for autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders,6(3), 1004-1018.
Lindgren, S., & Doobay, A. (2011). Evidence-based interventions for autism spectrum disorders. The University of Iowa.
Schaaf, R. C., Benevides, T., Mailloux, Z., Faller, P., Hunt, J., van Hooydonk, E., … & Kelly, D. (2014). An intervention for sensory difficulties in children with autism: A randomized trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(7), 1493-1506. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10803-013-1983-8/fulltext.html.