Little Evidence on Efficacy of Interventions in Autism

Some studies suggest improvements with specific interventions; most studies poor in quality

THURSDAY, Aug. 30 (HealthDay News) -- For adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders, few studies have assessed treatment approaches, and there is limited evidence available to support specific interventions, with most available studies of poor quality, according to a review published online Aug. 27 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Julie Lounds Taylor, Ph.D., from the Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Center in Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues reviewed the literature from 1980 through 2011, focusing on the outcomes of interventions for adolescents and young adults (aged 13 to 30) with autism spectrum disorders.

The researchers identified 32 unique studies. The majority of the studies were poor quality; five studies were fair quality; and none were good quality. Based on behavioral literature, short-term gains in social skills were seen for group- and computer-based interventions. Some gains were seen in vocabulary and reading in two poor-quality studies of educational interventions. Some positive results, usually of short duration, were identified in four small studies involving disparate interventions addressing highly specific adaptive/life skills. Poor quality studies involving vocational interventions reported that on-the-job support may promote community-based employment. There was little evidence supporting the use of medical interventions, but antipsychotics and serotonin reuptake inhibitors correlated with improvements in specific challenging behaviors. Allied health interventions such as facilitated communication had little supporting evidence.

"With more and more youth with autism leaving high school and entering the adult world, there is urgent need for evidence-based interventions that can improve their quality of life and functioning," Taylor said in a statement.

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