Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Autism -- How to know what works?

On Friday, “Autism_Mom” wrote:

“I've come across the Shafer Autism Report which seems to have lots of information on Autism - problem is I don't know how much of this info is based in good research. Seems like a lot of people slap "research-based" in front of whatever they're selling - how do I really know if it works?

It's true -- determining the quality of information on autism is tricky business. Even the Shafer report states they are not endorsing any treatments or providing any medical or legal advice. How frustrating!

How to start… Be a voracious reader, gather all the evidence you can, and seek the advice of the professionals. Remember that nobody knows your child better than you do, so pair your knowledge with professional understanding. Ultimately your knowledge of your child should form the foundation of the approach you take. An About: Autism Spectrum Disorders posting from 2007 made this same point:

“As you start to dig deeply into the literature on autism treatments, you'll find dozens of available options. Which are the "best" treatments? As the professionals will tell you over and over again, every child's needs are different.”

Still it’s worth taking a look at the list on that blog, which includes “what’s most likely to be offered and/or available.” You might also check out this discussion at Dr. Chris’ Autism Journal.

Hope that helps!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Into the Deep Water -- Autism

James Mulick, professor of pediatrics and psychology at Ohio State University says “there's no cure for autism, and many parents are willing to believe anything if they come to think it could help their child.”

Autism is certainly one of the most mystifying and challenging disabilities for both researchers and practitioners. With so many “fad” treatments popping up every day, how can parents, administrators, and teachers know where to find an effective, research-based intervention that will actually help a child?

Mulick, who chaired a symposium on “Outrageous Developmental Disorder Treatments at the American Psychological Association annual meeting last year, says Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention is the only therapy shown to have long-term positive effects.
As Mulick said in this article in Ohio State’s Research Communications, “EIBI is a highly structured approach to learning, in which children with autism are taught first to imitate their teachers. But this treatment is very time-consuming and labor intensive. It involves one-on-one behavioral treatment with the child for up to 40 hours a week for several years.”

So with so many “snake oil” solutions out there, and only one legit approach available at an astronomical expense, where can educators and parents turn for information?

I’ve found a couple of places to turn, but I’d love to hear from others who have experience swimming in these waters.

Here’s what I’ve found:

Has anybody used these resources? What did you think of them? Have you implemented a research-based program effectively? What made it effective? If it wasn't effective, why not? If you're a parent, have you found any particularly successful strategies?

Jumping into the breach

I’ve been searching all over the blogosphere for discussions of research-based special education interventions – to no avail! I’m sure there’s discussion going on all over the place – on closed discussion boards, group emails, or even in coffeehouses.

Still, it would be nice if there were something were we could all talk together, about what the research on special education says, and how it impacts children’s lives in our classrooms and homes.

There’s a broad discussion of special ed going on within the general education blogosphere. Some of the best I’ve come across include Bridging Differences (where Dianne Ravitch and Deborah Meier discuss all things educational) and Eduwonkette (who has a great blogroll).

There are also several blogs that cover special education law, such as The Wrightslaw Way.

But we need a place for conversation about what happens in the classroom, and how research can inform that practice. My hope is that this blog will draw together all the conversations that already exist and create new opportunities to learn from each other.

Wadda y’all think?