Advice line assesses autism interventions

GPs can find help to advise parents of autistic children about useful interventions using a website launched last week.

The charity, Research Autism, has produced a web-based tool that aims to provide up-to-date, independent advice about a range of interventions.

An estimated 500,000 people in the UK have an autistic spectrum disorder. But although there is a range of interventions touted to treat autism, there is little consolidation of research into the different approaches.

Professor Chris Cullen, a clinical psychologist at North Staffordshire Community Health Trust, helped compile the Research Autism web tool.

‘It’s not our task to praise particular approaches or put down other approaches,’ he said. ‘What we’re trying to do is be objective.

‘We know that some interventions work for some people. We also know that some interventions don’t work and are potentially harmful or dangerous.’

For example, facilitated communication, in which someone physically helps a person to point to symbols or words, is classed by the website as being very hazardous and to have a body of very strong evidence against it.

But early intensive behavioural interventions (EIBI), which are highly structured, pre-school programmes based on positive reinforcement, are considered to have very strong evidence to support their use.

Research Autism has already funded research into EIBI which showed that a two-year programme can boost IQ in young children with autism by as much as 26 per cent.

In turn, this can increase the chance of a child benefiting from education at a mainstream school, say the researchers from the University of Southampton.

Essex GP Dr Jamie Nicholls, a member of Research Autism’s science and advisory committee, said the web-based tool will be useful for GPs to refer to when parents of autistic children ask advice about different interventions.

‘As a GP you’re going to have more than a handful of people in the autistic spectrum on your list. You’re not an expert, but you are a person people will come to.’

The website provides advance analysis and links to all the papers considered for each area.

‘Your average GP will probably want to look into it as an advanced user,’ said Dr Nicholls.

Hackney GP Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, who has an autistic child, said: ‘The big problem for parents, and GPs, is that it’s easier to get junk research on autism rather than the good research.’

He added that the website ‘is a start in making what information is available readily accessible to parents and GPs.

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