Many autism treatments potentially harmful: researcher

Many current autism treatments are unproven and may be harming children, an education specialist says.

Professor Jeff Sigafoos, from Victoria University's Faculty of Education, said without a more evidence-based approach to education, autistic children were potentially at risk.

"Autism is an area where there happens to be a lot of misuse of evidence, controversy about what works for children and what doesn't, and a lot of unproven, ineffective and potentially harmful things being done in the name of educating children."

Autism affects one in every 150 children with most of them having difficulty communicating and about 50 percent failing to develop speech, he said.

Dr Sigafoos said his own research showed many parents were using unproven and potentially harmful treatments. From 552 parents surveyed, he found 108 different treatments were being used.

"Only five or six of those treatments were evidence based, so that means there are about 100 or so unproven treatments being used by parents, and I suspect the same thing would hold if you went into schools. Some of those could be quite harmful or detrimental."

Dr Sigafoos said he was applying the evidence-based approach to his research on identifying the best communication tools for children with autism.

"The idea is you do research to try and demonstrate whether a particular procedure or approach is effective.

"If it looks promising you do additional studies to see whether that promise holds and bears out in different situations and with different types of students for teaching different types of skills."

Many education policies were based either on ideology, ignorance or advocacy, as opposed to evidence, he said.

Dr Sigafoos will hold a lecture, "A Texas Governor, Two Austrians and the Norwegian: A Brief History of Autism," at Victoria University on November 23.




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