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IAN Research Findings: Treatment Series

Date Last Revised: 
March 8, 2011
Date Published: 
January 18, 2008

Since its launch in April of 2007, the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) project has been collecting information online from families of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) from throughout the United States. We now report on what parents have shared about the treatments they currently employ. How many autism treatments are families using at once, and what do these tend to be? What are the most popular treatments? The IAN Project hopes the collective experience of individual families can guide research priorities.

Autism Treatments: The Great Experiment

Hundreds of autism treatments are currently in use. In many cases, there is little or no scientific evidence to support their effectiveness. Parents of children with ASD, driven to help their children and knowing time is of the essence, are unable to wait for answers. They find themselves making all sorts of choices and trying all sorts of remedies, often in the absence of adequate information.

So many parents have gone through this: researching, agonizing, choosing, evaluating, dropping treatments, adding treatments... and trying to find a combination that keeps their child calm, healthy, present, and able to learn and grow. Most would agree that going through this process is a nightmare.

Parents need answers. Too many have participated, unwillingly, in the great autism treatment experiment.

By collecting data on families' treatment experiences, IAN hopes to contribute to the effort to identify effective treatments, as well as to guide decision-makers prioritizing which not-yet-proven treatments to study.

IAN: Tracking Treatments Families Are Using Now

Families participating in IAN Research have the opportunity to list all autism treatments they use, and to rate these. They also can note how much each treatment costs, and whether they had to go to extraordinary lengths to get it. Did they have to switch schools or doctors? Drive more than 100 miles? Enroll in a research study? Take legal action?

We still have a great deal of data to analyze, but we now present the basic information collected so far.

IAN families, all together, are utilizing 381 different autism treatments. The average number of simultaneous treatments that children with ASD participating in IAN receive is five, although more than half receive four or fewer. (See Figure 1.) About 5% of children currently receive no treatment at all, while others receive dozens. (The child with the most concurrent treatments is on 56!)

Figure 1.
 

Bar chart shows number of simultaneous treatments children with ASD are receiving

The most common individual treatments used by IAN families are listed in Table 1. These treatments, taken all together, account for more than 50% of the treatments that families list.

Table 1. Top Treatments Used by IAN Families

Rank

Treatment

1
Speech and Language Therapy
2
Occupational Therapy (OT)
3
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
4
Social Skills Groups
5
Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS)
6
Sensory Integration Therapy
7
Visual Schedules
8
Physical Therapy (PT)
9
Social Stories
10
Casein-free Diet
11
Gluten-free Diet
12
Weighted Blanket or Vest
13
Risperdal
14
Melatonin
15
Probiotics

A different picture emerges, however, if you group treatments into distinct types. For example, there are 4,373 instances of children taking individual vitamins, minerals, or other supplements, and 2,692 instances of children taking individual medications. While only Risperdal -- representing medications -- and Melatonin and Probiotics -- representing vitamins, minerals, and supplements -- appear on the above list, both categories are huge when you group all medications or all vitamins, minerals, or supplements together. What complicates matters, of course, is that many children are taking more than one. We will report in more detail on specific categories of treatment in future additions to this report, breaking down what types of medications or supplements are being used, and how many children are taking one or more, for example.

In addition, IAN will continue to collect data on treatments from families at regular intervals. What may be of most interest to researchers is what treatments families rate highly over time, and what treatments, having yielded disappointing results, are dropped.

Also in our Treatment Series:

Our Treatment Series is ongoing, so check back for additional reports.

To Learn More...

To learn more about the IAN Project, visit About IAN.
To join IAN Research, please go to www.IANresearch.org.

Please Note: These Findings Are Preliminary

The analyses presented here by the Interactive Autism Network are preliminary. They are based on information submitted via the Internet by parents of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) from the United States who choose to participate. They may not generalize to the larger population of parents of children with ASDs. The data have not been peer-reviewed -- that is, undergone evaluation by researchers expert in a particular field -- or been submitted for publication. IAN views participating families as research partners, and shares such preliminary information to thank them and demonstrate the importance of their ongoing involvement.

We encourage autism researchers investigating these topics to apply for access to the IAN database. Contact researchteam@ianproject.org.

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