Reducing ineffective autism practices

Reducing the use of ineffective practices in autism early intervention is the focus of a new Griffith University study.

“Autism has been described as a “fad magnet’ as it attracts a wide array of potential interventions,’’ says Professor Deb Keen from the Autism Centre of Excellence.

“These interventions have varying levels of effectiveness leaving both parents and professionals unsure of “what works”.

Research has often focussed on encouraging greater use of effective practices, but little has been done to reduce or eliminate the use of practices that have been shown to be ineffective.

“Our study aims to address this problem by focusing on increasing knowledge of the evidence based on both effective and ineffective strategies.”

More than 230,000 people in Australia have autism with boys four times more likely than girls to be affected. But as there is no “cure’’ and no clear cause (although genetic factors are implicated), and there is no single best treatment, making navigating the wide array of interventions a challenge.

“What this means is supporting practitioners who work with children to use and fine-tune their use of practices based on research evidence and to reduce or eliminate those practices shown to be ineffective,’’ says Dr Jessica Paynter from theSchool of Applied Psychology.

She said there were some interventions/treatments with enough evidence behind them to be deemed effective, many from behaviourally-based methods such as reinforcement and prompting.

“There are also practices with some or no evidence, where we don’t know yet if they are helpful.

“However, there are treatments that have been shown clearly to not work in research. We call these ineffective treatments and strongly discourage their use.”

These include treatments like facilitated communication, taking oral supplements of the peptide secretin, and auditory integration therapy.

“Use of such treatments may cause harm to children or families, waste valuable resources, and results in time and money spent on things that do not work taking away from time that could be spent on things that could.”

The researchers are focussed on supporting therapists, teachers, and other professionals/paraprofessionals to be aware of the evidence base of treatments so they can confidently select and support the use of appropriate treatments and interventions.