Evidence lacking for most autism treatments

Reuters, Tuesday 5 Apr 2011

When it comes to treating autism, there are still more questions than answers

That's the message from a series of reviews published today in the journal Pediatrics, in which researchers analyzed past studies on the effectiveness of medication or behavioral and developmental therapies in kids with autism spectrum disorders.

Parents, doctors, and even entire school systems are "routinely put in the position of having to make decisions about what the most appropriate services will be" for kids with autism, said Zachary Warren, one of the researchers, in an interview with Reuters Health.

"What we would really hope for is an evidence base where you could make those decisions based on what we know about how particular children respond to particular interventions," said Warren, who runs an autism clinic at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

But for most treatment options, there is not convincing evidence that they actually help kids get better, Warren said.

Close to 1 percent of children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder, which includes both autism and Asperger's syndrome. People with these conditions have difficulty interacting with and understanding the emotions of others, and they often engage in repetitive behaviors.

Most children with autism are treated with behavioral therapy starting at a young age, and many will try multiple kinds of therapy or medications as they get older. 

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