Effective Therapies

What works?

Intervention therapy that is grounded in evidence-based practice results in the greatest likelihood of positive outcomes for individuals on the autism spectrum. Therapy includes interventions carried out under the supervision of a qualified professional as well as practices that can be implemented by parents and caregivers.

What are evidence-based practices?

“Evidence based practice” refers to intervention strategies which have been proven through rigorous replicated research to be effective in improving skill acquisition for individuals on the autism spectrum.

Positive Partnerships (2014) notes that with increasing choice in therapy options, there is:

“…an increasing need for parents and professionals to critically evaluate potential interventions when deciding on which approach(es) to use”.

It is widely agreed in the research literature that there are several layers of evidence which inform the strength of proof that a therapy is useful. These range from the weakest form which relies on anecdotal or testimonial claims, through to the strongest type of research based on randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.

The National Autism Centre (NAC, 2015) recently conducted an extensive review of the research literature in an effort to compile a list of effective evidence-based practices for people on the autism spectrum. This review is called the National Standards Project Phase II (NSP2). The NSP2 identifies and describes 14 established evidence-based therapies for people on the autism spectrum younger than 22 years, and one established evidence-based therapy for people over the age of 22 years. The NSP2 also lists and describes therapies which are emerging in the research as potentially effective therapies, and those which have no research evidence of effectiveness. The NSP2 is available for loan from the Autism Tasmania resource library, or it can be downloaded from the NAC website.

Working as a team

The key to achieving optimal outcomes in the use of Evidence Based Practices for individuals on the autism spectrum is to use a team approach whereby practitioners, autistic individuals, and their families work in partnership (National Autism Centre [NAC], 2015).

The NAC suggest three factors which underpin effective collaborative practices and optimise the chances of maximum benefit for individuals on the autism spectrum:

  • The application of professional judgment that is based on sound research based information;
  • Consideration of the values and preferences of the individual with autism and their family; and
  • The use of a systematic approach to building the capacity within organisations (such as schools and childcare centres) to implement effective interventions (NAC, 2015).

A person-centred approach

Effective intervention using evidence-based practices involves individualising the approach for each person. Each program should be flexible enough to consider each person’s priorities, strengths and interests as well as their individual patterns of social communication skills, behaviour, and sensory differences.

A person-centred intervention program should utilise the individual’s strengths and interests as a basis for skill building. Any co-existing conditions and the overall family needs, values and priorities should also be considered. As Chris Varney, founder of the Australian I CAN Network and an adult on the autism spectrum notes:

“No two people on the autism spectrum are the same. But every person on the spectrum has strengths that can be channelled into their social interactions, community participation, education and employment”.