School Psychology Review

A Selective Review of Treatments for Children With Autism: Description and Methodological Considerations

Frank M. Gresham, Margaret R. Beebe-Frankenberger, Donald L. MacMillan

pp. 559-575

Mini-Series: Assessment and Treatment of Children With Autism in the Schools

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Abstract: Autism is a developmental disorder whose behavioral characteristics range on a continuum from mild to severe. Autism is typically not diagnosed prior to age 2 to 3 years and the prognosis for this pervasive developmental disorder is poor. Although there is no documented “cure” for autism, research suggests that it can be managed effectively using comprehensive behavioral and educational treatment programs. This article reviews and critiques several of the most visible and most frequently cited treatment programs for children with autism: the UCLA Young Autism Project, Project TEACCH, LEAP, applied behavior analysis programs, and the Denver Health Science Program.Treatment programs having little or no empirical support such as facilitated communication, auditory integration therapy, and sensory integration therapy also are briefly reviewed.We evaluate the empirical evidence for the efficacy and effectiveness of these programs using conventional standards of research design and methodology and the Division 12 Task Force on Empirically Supported Treatments for Childhood Disorders of the American Psychological Association. Based on these Task Force criteria, there are no well-established or probably efficacious treatments for autism, although virtually all programs show substantial developmental gains, particularly in measured IQ. Recommendations for future research and practice are offered with guidelines for evaluating treatment programs for children with autism.