Parents and teachers can often feel overwhelmed when considering which approaches to use to support young people with autism. There are numerous intervention strategies and approaches advocated within the literature. Research Autism list a bewildering 978 different interventions which are used in practice. The NAS lists strategies and approaches ranging from visual supports and social stories to more ‘complete’ packages like TEACCH.
However, the evidence base for many of the approaches that are widely used is not entirely convincing. Many experts in the field would agree that no single approach can be useful for all individuals with autism, and that no approach is likely to be suitable even for the same individual over time. So just how do parents and professionals know that they are ‘doing the right thing’?
A research study published in November 2012 suggests that more evidence is urgently needed to support the use of autism interventions. The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, and comissioned by the RAND corporation concludes that the evidence for the efficacy of the most widely used interventions ranges from moderate to insufficient.
The study indicates that there is moderate evidence that Auditory Integration Training is not effective, and that there is insufficient evidence regarding the efficacy of augmentative and alternative communication devices. Also, the expert panel was unable to reach consensus about the evidence for Sensory Integration or Deep Pressure Brushing.
The researchers agreed that there was enough evidence to endorse the following approaches:
The study also concludes that what is needed is higher quality, longitudinal research studies which are large enough to be able to tease out important details such as which interventions are best suited to different types of difficulties and also able to distinguish the effects of different components of interventions.
Understanding sensory behaviour is very challenging as it often requires us to think counter-intuitively about what is going on. Young people with autism are prone to sensory sensitivities which can indicate that they may be hyper (over) sensitive or hypo (under) sensitive. Sensory overload will often lead to challenging behaviour including avoiding situations that the young person can’t cope with. Young people who are hyper-sensitive will at times become fixated on certain objects as a way of blocking out other stimuli which they are finding overwhelming. Young people who are hypo-sensitive will, rather than avoid sensation, actively seek it out. For example, young people who regularly squeeze into small spaces may be hypo-sensitive in terms of their sense of proprioception (body awareness). Exploring sensory behaviours in terms of what form of sensory input the young person is seeking or avoiding is a helpful first step in planning for that behaviour in the future.
To identify possible sensory impacts on behaviour we need to:
• Observe the behaviour
• Look at the possible effects of the seven senses
• Look at possible build up of different sensory information over time
e.g. a full school day
• Have a picture of individual’s sensory preferences and sensitivities
• Introduce sensory items or approaches that calm to help the
• Modify your approach with your new understanding.
The checklist above is taken from a guide written by Falkirk council. Click here to download a really useful free PDF document for parents and carers called Making Sense of Sensory Behaviour. Although the guide is aimed at parents and carers, much of the advice is equally useful for teaching staff.
Knowing where to turn for help and advice when supporting a young person with autism can be very tough. I’ve put together this list of websites that may serve as a useful starting point for signposting you in the right direction. With so much information available on the internet often it’s difficult, especially at first, to know which information is reliable and trustworthy.
The National Autistic Society is a wondeful resource. The main UK charity for autism. You’ll find this to be one of the most reliable sites around. Also lists the NAS schools around the UK.
Another favourite of mine is Research Autism. The leading organisation in the UK for all of the latest research projects and findings connected to autism. Research Autism also has the backing of the NAS.
The Autism Education Trust is well worth a read for education professionals as well as for carers. A really useful section on good practice and well designed with good video clips too.
Some other sources of useful information are:
The Autism Society of America
The Autism Blog
The Autism Directory
Looking Up Autism
I hope you find these links useful. Keep checking back here for practical tips and advice for supporting children with autism.
If you know of other sites that you think should be included here please feel free to contact me.
I was recently watching Temple Grandin at the annual TED conference. In the talk, she uses the lens of her own autism to talk about how she ‘thinks in pictures’. Take a look at the clip here.
In it she talks about how her autism influences the way she thinks – allowing her to pick out the small details in situations often before she has been able to process the ‘whole’.
It’s really interesting to listen to Temple describing ‘visual thinkers’, ‘pattern thinkers’, and ‘verbal thinkers’ and how these principles might apply in my professional practice.
The idea of different types or styles of thinking in autism is closely connected to the idea of multiple intelligences in autism. I write more about this here.
Welcome to my new blog. As much of my blogging is related to autism, I wanted to set up a specialised blog to focus on just autism. My other sites YourPsychology.co.uk and the Your Psychology Blog cover a broader range of child psychology topics. You can find out more about me here.
Of special interest at the moment are the impending changes to the DSM criteria for diagnosing autism and related conditions. The implications of these changes are not clear, but some current diagnoses will no longer exist – including Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). I’ll be writing much more about these issues.
I will also use the blog to distribute tips and strategies for parents and teachers to use when supporting children with autism. These will be from research evidence, and also from my professional experience of supporting children with autism and challenging behaviour.
Check out my existing Autism links here:
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