An article in the January 13, 2014 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Autism spectrum disorder: advances in evidence-based practice, confirms what American authorities have told us for decades, from the US Surgeon General to MADSEC and the American Academy of Pediatrics, ABA still represents evidence based, effective best treatment practice while "Research on non-ABA–based treatments is sparse and shows limited efficacy.":
Autism spectrum disorder: advances in evidence-based practice
"What treatments and interventions are available, and are they effective? The goal of existing interventions is to facilitate the acquisition of skills, remove barriers to learning and improve functional skills and quality of life.
Current best practices for preschool-aged children with ASD include a focus on improving language, cognitive and adaptive skills using applied behaviour analysis (ABA) techniques.58 Applied behaviour analysis refers to the application of empirically derived learning principles(i.e., the antecedent–behaviour–consequence contingency) to produce meaningful changes in behaviour.59 Such strategies are carefully engineered and implemented through a variety of approaches (e.g., discrete trial teaching to more naturalistic learning contexts) to teach skills and reduce problem behaviour. Applied behaviour analysis interventions can be provided in a variety of settings (e.g., home, specialized treatment centres, specialized or public schools) by a range of front-line therapists, ideally supervised by a psychologist or board-certified behaviour analyst who specializes in ASD.
A recent overview of meta-analyses60 found significantly enhanced outcomes associated with early intensive ABA-based treatment (typically for 2–3 yr) in four of five included meta-analyses (effect sizes 0.30 to > 1); these findings have since been bolstered by a sixth meta-analysis.61 Gains appear to be greatest in verbal intelligence quotient (IQ) and language communication domains,62,63 for children with stronger pretreatment skills, if treatment is started earlier,64 and with greater intensity or duration of intervention. 60–62,64 These gains achieved in various domains have been summarized in a recent Cochrane review.63 Although the overall quality of evidence is low, it is the best evidence available. A recent study in Ontario reported predictors of outcome that account for some heterogeneity in treatment response.65
A recent RCT supported the efficacy of ABA-based intervention in toddlers by showing improvements in IQ, adaptive skills and diagnostic classification.37 Models vary, notably by how ABA principles are implemented, but everyday contexts (e.g., free play v. “tabletop”) and activities based on the child’s interests (v. therapist’s agenda) have advantages, including greater generalization of learning.66 Questions remain about which forms and intensities of treatment are most effective for which children.
Research on non-ABA–based treatments is sparse and shows limited efficacy.67 Translation of evidence-based intervention into community practice is being evaluated, including in Canada.68 A key question is whether effective high-quality programs can be less costly and more sustainable; the findings from Nova Scotia are promising.38 Studies of the effectiveness of treatment programs for older children, youth and adults with ASD are scarce. Benefits have been reported for structured teaching practices, including ABA based interventions, for a wide range of skill deficits and maladaptive behaviours.58