Skip to content

There are many interventions for autism that claim to be effective, however only some of these are supported by scientific research. Interventions shown to be effective via well-conducted scientific research are called empirically supported treatments (ESTs).

Our knowledge about effective treatments for children with autism is growing. However, the autism field has some way to go in establishing a solid research base that can be applied to children across the range a full range of ages, abilities, and circumstances. For example, sometimes research may not be available on children matching your child’s age or individual characteristics. . Evidence-based practise integrates the best available intervention research with clinical expertise in the context of a child’s individual characteristics, culture, and preferences (American Psychological Association, 2006).

Given the large number of intervention approaches available, it can be difficult to decide which approach is right for your child.  When choosing an intervention approach and/or provider it is important to know whether an approach has research-based scientific evidence showing its effectiveness, and to understand why an approach may suit your child and their goals.  Asking the service provider about the evidence for the approach they recommend is a good start. They should have a good understanding of the evidence and be able to answer your questions confidently. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What is the research evidence showing this approach is effective?
  • Were the research articles published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals?*
  • Can I have copies of the research papers or easy-to-read summaries?
  • What sort of children were included in the research studies (were they similar to my child)?
  • How much treatment did the children receive (is that similar to what my child is receiving)?
  • How did the researchers measure if the approach was effective?
  • Have any studies followed up the children to see if there were long-term benefits?
  • How will you evaluate if the treatment is working for my child?
  • Are there any studies showing this treatment was ineffective?
  • Are there any children for whom you would not recommend this approach?
  • Do you know about evidence for other approaches or only this approach?

*One way to determine whether scientific research is of a high quality it to see if it is published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals. Papers published in these journals have all been reviewed by a panel of experienced researchers who were not involved in conducting the study. Not all journals require research to be peer-reviewed.