Evidence-based Practice and Autism

By Hanna C. Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D

What is evidence-based practice?

By now, many people have heard of the term “evidence-based practice” (EBP). Many professionals in areas such as health care and education use the term EBP.  A clinician or practitioner is engaging in EBP if he/she is making use of high-quality research in their specified area, their clinical judgment based on experience with  certain population, intervention, or program, and taking into consideration the values and preferences of their client/student and their families.  EBP is not one thing but a framework that guides the practice of professionals.

How does a person identify high-quality research in the field of autism treatment?

It can be hard for professionals to keep up with the very active literature of autism treatment (e.g., behavioral interventions, educational interventions, medical interventions, etc).  So what is a family member to do when attempting to find research supporting a particular autism treatment/intervention? One way professionals and family members can remain informed about high quality research in the area of autism treatment is to read systematic reviews on the subject.

What in the world is a systematic review? Glad you asked.  A systematic review is a collection of empirical research articles that are reviewed by a researcher or research group.  The review typically includes a rating the of the quality of science in each study.  That is, the researchers develop a way to measure whether or not the study was well designed and carried out or was not well designed or carried out.  The researchers then determine the impact of the treatment/intervention on the participants in the study.  Researchers may develop a rating indicating how much participants benefited from the treatment.  Once researchers evaluate the quality of science and impact of treatment, they summarize the results.  These summaries make it easy for professionals and family members to find results of a multitude of studies in one place.  A number of recent systematic reviews regarding behavioral and educational interventions for individuals with autism have been published.  See below for links to websites providing access to the results of two systematic reviews.

What do you do with this information?

Once you review the results of a systematic review, you can make informed decisions regarding the treatment/ intervention programs for your loved one with autism.  For example, use this information when meeting with the professionals working with your family member with autism.  Ask professionals about their knowledge of interventions supported by quality scientific research and how to tailor these interventions to meet the needs of your family.  If you have home-based staff assisting with intervention implementation, ensure they have training to effectively use scientifically supported interventions.

Recommended websites:

National Professional Development Center

 National Autism Center