Wednesday, March 05, 2008

More AutismPro Promotion But Where is the Evidence?

New Brunswick media have been actively engaged in helping Virtual Experts Inc. promote AutismPro over the past 24 hours in New Brunswick. Not itself shy about tooting its own horn, see - Autism and AutismPro-Buzzwords Aplenty But Where's The Evidence?, AutismPro - "Somewhat" Evidence Based or Not Evidence Based At All?, AutismPro and Autism Self Promotion, AutismPro has been actively promoted by CBC and the Telegraph Journal. Indications are that more feel good stories may be on the way from other media. The Telegraph Journal article reports the testimonial evidence of parents of an autistic child that the child made very impressive gains as a result of their use of AutismPro.

The reality though is that every form of autism treatment or intervention known can offer similar testimonial support. But this is the weakest form of evidence. Therapies from facilitated communication to swimming with dolphins all can offer testimonial support. The serious reviews of autism interventions conducted over the past 20 years have examined autism treatments and weighed their effectiveness on the basis of the quality of the evidence in support.

In New Brunswick parents fought hard to obtain a commitment from the Province of New Brunswick to provide evidence based interventions to prevent quack treatments from being used to "help" autistic children. Non-evidence based treatments and education interventions can be directly harmful in some instances. Even when not directly harmful a non-evidence based intervention can wast parents valuable financial and emotional resources and the autistic child's even more valuable development time. That is the real danger presented by an unproven, non evidence based method of intervention.

In Autism and AutismPro-Buzzwords Aplenty But Where's The Evidence?, AutismPro - "Somewhat" Evidence Based or Not Evidence Based At All? and AutismPro and Autism Self Promotion I commented on the lack of published control studies of the effectiveness of AutismPro as an autism intervention. In 2006 the ever active marketing component of VEC Inc. indicated that studies were being done. Perhaps they were not completed for some reason but I have never seen the results of such studies published.

The CBC feature Online autism therapy gets national recognition points out that AutismPro is receiving an innovation award. That is great for VEC Inc. but it does not establish that AutismPro is actually effective.

New Brunswick Department of Education AutismPro Pilot Project

That CBC feature also refers to pilot projects being conducted in New Brunswick and Ontario. In New Brunswick the Department of Education was aware of concerns previously expressed by the Autism Society New Brunswick and did not inform the ASNB that it would be conducting the AutismPro pilot project. I personally attended a meeting of the Department's Dialogue on Education Committee as a last minute replacement for an ASNB representative and was only able to stay half the day because of a court commitment. The agenda for the meeting did not indicate that an AutismPro pilot project would be discussed. This is the actual agenda that was circulated for that meeting, which makes no mention of AutismPro pilot project, which I found out later, was discussed after I had to leave the meeting:

AGENDA

Dialogue on Education Committee Meeting

Friday, September 21, 2007

Place 2000, Fredericton, NB

10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

1. Welcome & Introductions

2. Review of Minutes from May, 2007

3. Additions to Agenda

4. Implementation of the MacKay report

5. The place of students with disabilities in the mandate and work plan of the commission on second-language training.

6. Updates and/or Concerns from Committee Members

7. Mediation Training Information

8. Updates from Department of Education

9. Other

I was present as an Autism Society rep at the meeting and discussed autism related issues in the morning. I indicated that I had to leave early but no one informed me that the Department of Education, which was conducting that meeting was going to discuss an AutismPro pilot project. The only conclusion I can draw from those facts is that the Department official conducting the meeting, did not want the input of the Autism Society Representative in discussing an AutismPro pilot project. To me that conduct casts in doubt the credibility of the NB Department of Education AutismPro pilot project.

Parents whose children are invited to participate in the AutismPro pilot project are given a positive, not a neutral introduction to the project, and are encouraged by the NB Department of Education to visit the AutismPro web site, with its heavily self promotional information, for more information:

"Hi,

Please find attached my consult notes from my visit with XYZ on Tuesday. .......

I was also wondering if it would be of benefit to XYZ to take part in an individual computer program that the Dept of Ed is piloting this year. As a clinical supervisor, I have access to the program, Autism Pro Professional, software developed here in Fredericton and marketed world wide for support for children with autism.

It provides an assessment of where he is in learning in all 8 domains and generates programs that are suited for him. It also allows me to graph his progress and allows his teacher, TA, parent and others (Private workers) to print off the activities, see the progress charts and find helpful resources and strategies for all areas, including behaviour.

If you want to look at it, just go to the website, http://www.autismpro.com and you can see a demo. All information is secure and is approved by the dept of Ed. All I would need is his birth date to add him to the program.

Please let me know…. Thanks,"

That web site is heavily promotional in nature, extolling the virtues of AutismPro. In the NB Department of Education some senior bureaucrats have been ardent promoters of AutismPro. It is difficult to see how the results of the AutismPro Pilot Project will be objective and reliable.

Hopefully, the Toronto AutismPro pilot project will be conducted more professionally than that being offered by the NB Department of Education. And hopefully the New Brunswick and Toronto students with autism whose parents are being asked to enroll them in the AutismPro pilot projects will do well, whether because of AutismPro or otherwise. Hopefully too the VEC Inc. people will spend a little less of their time and effort promoting AutismPro around the world and a little more on producing objective, credible studies of the effectiveness of their product.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Harold--I am pretty sure that AutismPro is based on ABA. From what I can see it it a "managed service" provider allowing parents to start programs on their own. It's really more an intervention program management service than anything else. Given that there may be huge waiting lists for therapists, why do you think it is a bad thing? Even with all the funding in the world thrown at Autsim for ABA, you can't make service providers magically appear. This is going to fill the gap for a lot of parents. And no, I am not a shill for the company.

Autism Reality NB said...

Anonymous

Actually AutismPro, according to the VEC web sites, is based on a number of different interventions,some with very little evidence basis. To the extent that ABA is a component the VEC web site indicates that it is "somewhat" based on ABA. You can review my previous comments on that subject. AutismPro "Somewhat" Evidence based or not evidence based at all.

No one is suggesting that service providers will magically appear. That is why some of us have fought for several years to a) help create the establishment of the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training Program, b) push government to train Autism Support Workers and Clinical Supervisors for pre-school children and c) train Teacher Aides and Resource Teachers to work with Autistic school children. Much remains to be done but we currently have a commitment from the Premier and Minister Lamrock to train more years of TA's and teaches at 100 per year. We are way ahead of most jurisdictions in North American in getting ABA instruction available to pre-school and school age children.

I am also concerned about the heavy marketing approach of AutismPro. The emphasis on aggressive marketing of the product has not been matched by testing of the product in controlled professional studies.