Vanderbilt University researchers studying interventions for adolescents and young adults with autism are reporting today that there is insufficient evidence to support findings, good or bad, for the therapies currently used. “Overall, there is very little evidence in all areas of care for adolescents and young adults with autism, and it is urgent that more rigorous studies be developed and conducted,” saidMelissa McPheeters, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of Vanderbilt’s Evidence-Based Practice Center. Key findings: The researchers systematically screened more than 4,500 studies and reviewed the 32 studies published from January 1980 to December 2011 on therapies for people ages 13 to 30 with autism spectrum disorders. They focused on the outcomes, including harms and adverse effects, of interventions, including medical, behavioral, educational and vocational. Some evidence revealed that treatments could improve social skills and educational outcomes such as vocabulary or reading, but the studies were generally small and had limited follow-up. Limited evidence supports the use of medical interventions in adolescents and young adults with autism. The most consistent findings were identified for the effects of antipsychotic medications on reducing problem behaviors that tend to occur with autism, such as irritability and aggression. Harms associated with medications included sedation and weight gain. Only five articles tested vocational interventions, all of which suggested that certain vocational interventions may be effective for certain individuals, but each study had significant flaws that limited the researchers’ confidence in their conclusions.
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