The lack of proven treatments prompts many parents to pursue their own research --often using the “trial and error” method. One quick Google search yields close to 1.5 million “hits” on the topic of “ASD treatment” --truly everything you would want to know about treating ASDs. A preliminary study conducted in 2004 by Dr. Vanessa Green and colleagues* found that over a hundred different treatments were being tried by families across the United States and that, on average, parents were using seven different treatments at one time for their child. The number and types of treatments being used varied with the child’s age and the severity of the child’s disability. Many of even the most commonly used treatments lack empirical support.
It’s overwhelming for families to navigate this mountain of information. Although many start with the drive and determination to find the best single treatment or combination of treatments for their child, it doesn’t take long to become tired and discouraged.
In our own month-long review of websites identified using Google, we compiled a list of over 180 treatments and/or therapies. The treatments promoted are as vast and varied as the autism spectrum itself, ranging from the commonly accepted standards to the exotic and possibly dangerous. While some options offer reasonable solutions to discrete problems, others promise a cure and/or complete recovery from ASD. Almost all require a checkbook and/or credit card.
For service providers and other professionals in the field --including researchers-- the landscape of ASD treatments and therapies offers just as many frustrations. The diverse nature of the disorder makes it particularly hard to diagnose and treat as well as to research efficiently. In response to this challenge, researchers are now attempting to identify groups of children on the spectrum with similar characteristics (known as “subtypes of autism”). Hopefully, by focusing on a subtype of autism, treatment studies can be more targeted to certain symptoms and thus be more likely to yield positive results.
*Green, V.A., Pituch, K.A., Itchon, J., Choi, A., O'Reilly, M., & Sigafoos, J. (2006). Internet survey of treatments used by parents of children with autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 27(1), 70-84. Abstract