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Which Autism Treatments Have Been Approved By the Medical Mainstream?


Updated March 05, 2009

Question: Which Autism Treatments Have Been Approved By the Medical Mainstream?
Which autism treatments have been scientifically researched and approved by the medical mainstream?
Answer: As of today, only two autism treatments have been scientifically researched and approved by the medical mainstream. These include Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), a behavioral intervention and Risperdal (risperidone), an antipsychotic medication. The fact that these have been researched and approved does NOT mean that they are the best and only treatments available for you or your child.

In the world of science and medicine, research should ideally include testing and evaluation of a treatment in a consistent manner by many different researchers in separate trials. The people undergoing testing should all be as similar as possible. Benchmarks for success and evaluation tools should be consistent. In addition, testing and evaluation should include a control group (people who are NOT receiving the treatment), and evaluation should be "double-blind" (neither subjects nor evaluators should not know which people are receiving the treatment).

It's tough to conduct true scientific research on autism treatments. That's because, in part, autistic people are so different from one another. Not only are their sensory issues and social/behavioral skills radically different, but so are their physical symptoms. For example, a surprisingly large percentage of people with autism also have seizure disorders, bipolar disorder, gastrointestinal issues, etc. No one can say for sure whether it's appropriate to conduct tests on a cross-section of autistic people - or on a group of autistic people who have very similar issues.

Another problem with the research so far is that the vast majority of treatments available were developed by an individual doctor or therapist based on his or her own research, experience, patients, etc. Few independent researchers are interested in conducting double-blind placebo-based tests to find out whether a particular clinic has the right idea about autism treatment.

Thus, while it's easy to find a study by Dr. X and associates saying that Dr. X has proved that Dr. X's therapy is successful, it's very tough to find independent research comparing Dr. X's approach to Dr. Y's. Even worse, Drs. X and Y may use a completely different system for measuring improvement in their patients. It may be that Dr. X has discovered a very important method for treating autism, but most of the "proof" is anecdotal.

Applied Behavioral Analysis has been around for decades, and there's no doubt that it is effective in teaching skills to most autistic people. But is it better than other treatments? No one really knows.

Risperdal is effective for some people who have certain behavioral symptoms. Is it the only medication that is effective for autistic people - or the best choice of medication for all autistic people? Absolutely not. In fact, many medications are successfully prescribed "off label" (for purposes other than those for which they were approved by the FDA) for autism.


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