Treating autism 'right the first time'

Autism therapy is bedeviled by unpredictable outcomes. Even with the best behavioral treatments, which are the only ones to have been scientifically demonstrated to work says Laura Schreibman, professor of psychology and director of the Autism Research Program at the University of California, San Diego some children improve dramatically, some only somewhat and others not at all.

Many families try one thing after another, losing precious months before hitting on the therapeutic method best suited for their autistic child. Given the importance of early intervention, Schreibman said, "we need to get it right the first time."

A new study coauthored by Schreibman and recent doctoral graduate Michelle Sherer successfully matches autistic children with an appropriate therapy. Published in the June issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, the study is the first to develop and test a predictive profile of children likely to respond to a particular treatment, in this case Pivotal Response Training.

PRT is a child-directed behavioral intervention developed by Schreibman and UC Santa Barbara colleague Robert L. Koegel. Focused on improving a child's motivation and responsiveness, PRT targets language skills, play skills and social behaviors that can be generalized to a natural, non-lab setting.

The researchers began by examining data from 28 children who had participated in previous investigations of PRT. Characteristics of the poorest and most exceptional responders were used to develop the predictive profile. Children expected to do well with PRT were those who showed a moderate to high interest in toys, were tolerant of another person in close proximity, and, relative to those with poor outcomes, had fewer non-verbal stimulatory behaviors (flapping or rocking, for example) and more verbal self-stimulatory behaviors (squeaking or other nonsensical sounds).

A prospective stu

Contact: Inga Kiderra
University of California - San Diego

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