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Which Autism Treatments Are Working?

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Updated March 09, 2009

Your child is getting three types of therapies, a special diet, and a pharmaceutical medication. She's also enrolled in a specialized school program. Even if her abilities are improving, you may not know which intervention is making the difference. As a result, you may be spending time and money on treatments that do absolutely nothing for your child!

Why Goals, Benchmarks and Evaluations Matter:

What does the behavioral therapist hope to accomplish? Why is the occupational therapist having your child bounce on a trampoline? By understanding your therapists' goals and the benchmarks they use to measure success, you'll be better equipped to make good choices on your child's behalf.

Every Child Develops and Matures - With No Intervention at All:

It's important to remember that your child is likely to grow and change without any treatment at all. His sudden interest in other children could be caused by his own internal development -- and not by any of his expensive, time-consuming therapies.

Start with Baseline Information:

Before you can measure your child's progress, you need to know where he is today. You can hire someone to evaluate your child for you, but you can also take your own notes, make your own home videos, and ask his teachers and therapists to keep careful records starting NOW.

Start One Treatment at a Time:

When your child is having a tough time, it's tempting to try every intervention all at once. But if you start two or three therapies or treatments at once, it may be impossible to know what's helping and what's hurting. Try to start no more than one new treatment at a time, and give each treatment about three months before starting something new.

Know What Your Goals Are:

Every treatment should have a purpose, and every therapist should be able to articulate that purpose. Work with your child's therapist to create short-term goals that seem both achievable and measurable. "Improved behavior" is not an acceptable goal, because "improvement" could mean anything, and behavior varies from hour to hour and day to day.

Use Video to Help You Assess Progress:

It's hard to really know whether your child is moving forward, especially when changes seem to take two steps forward and one step back. Use a video camera as a tool to help you decide whether real progress is taking place. The camera doesn't lie and it can help you compare behaviors and skills over time, and when you have time to focus.

"Blind" Your Child's Teachers or Therapists:

Because you expect certain changes, you may see them whether or not they're really present. That's why it's a good idea to keep some of the people in your child's life in the dark about new therapies. After you've tried the therapy for a while, ask the "blinded" members of your child's team whether they've seen changes. Their evidence may help you decide whether your perceptions are correct.

Stop Therapies That Don't Work:

If you've tried a therapy for three months and seen no positive outcome, it may be time to talk with your therapist about calling it quits. After all, no treatment is the "best" for all children with autism -- and there are plenty of options to choose from.
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  6. Which Autism Treatments Are Working - Assessing Effectiveness of Autism Treatments

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