August 28, 2012

Lack Of Evidence Found On Autism Treatments For Adolescents

Scientists from Vanderbilt University recently found that there is a lack of evidence to support any findings on the therapies for young children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder.

To begin, autism is a serious issue in the U.S. To better understand therapies available, the researchers looked at various interventions for participants between the ages of 13 and 30. They found that, even though autism is increasing among the younger population, there is still need for more research to conclusively identify the effectiveness of treatments.

“Overall, there is very little evidence in all areas of care for adolescents and young adults with autism, and it is urgent that more rigorous studies be developed and conducted,” noted senior report author Melissa McPheeters, director of Vanderbilt’s Evidence-Based Practice Center, in a prepared statement

The report featured a review of therapies and was recently published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which is under the Department of Health and Human Services. The scientists looked at over 4,500 studies and 32 studies that were published from January 1980 to December 2011. Many of the studies concerned the outcomes of particular interventions, such as the education, behavioral, and vocational effects.

Based on the findings, the researchers believe that only some studies showed that these interventions could boost social skills. There was some increase in educational outcomes in areas like vocabulary and reading, but the evidence was small and did not include much follow-up. In terms of medical interventions, the scientists found that there was limited evidence that demonstrated the effectiveness of medical treatment. The result seen most often was the impact of antipsychotic medications in decreasing problematic behaviors, but there were also side effects like sedation and weight gain. Lastly, only five articles examined vocational intervention but each of the studies had a significant flaw that made the researchers question the validity of the results.

“There are growing numbers of adolescents and adults with autism in need of substantial support. Without a stronger evidence base, it is very hard to know which interventions will yield the most meaningful outcomes for individuals with autism and their families,” explained Zachary Warren, director of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, in a prepared statement.

Furthermore, the study provides a number of possible solutions. One recommendation is studying programs and interventions to develop a manual that can help standardize treatment. In future studies, scientists ca look at factors such as quality of life, educational opportunity, and social outcomes as well as the financial impact on individuals, families, and systems that have programs in place. More factors that can be addressed by researchers include the transition from young adult to adulthood. Lastly, the goals of individuals with autism and families are necessary to understand in future research projects. Increased research will help determine the difference in financial costs for people with autism spectrum disorder, especially when factoring issues like unemployment, impact on families, and health care costs.

In closing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that one in eight children display signs of the autism spectrum disorder. It is also skewed by gender, with boys outnumbering girls five-to-one in having autism. They also comment on the need for long-term studies that look at employment programs that have been successful.

“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,” commented lead report author Julie Lounds Taylor, assistant professor of Pediatrics and Special Education at Vanderbilt, in the statement.

Image Credit: Synchronista / Shutterstock

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