Interventions, Treatments and Therapies and Autism

Father and child playing An intervention is any kind of activity (such as a treatment, a therapy or the provision of a service) that is designed to impact or improve the quality of life for autistic people.

There are many different types of intervention and the names and numbers of interventions are increasing all the time.

Some interventions are designed to address the core features of autism (persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities). This idea is contentious as it may include the person's identity. There is a growing consensus that these core features should only be addressed where the quality of a person's life is adversely affected, and even then only after the most careful consideration.

Other interventions are designed to address other issues that may be reported (such as anxiety, aggression or self injurious behaviour).

Some interventions can be quite simple and straightforward. For example, if someone finds a specific situation difficult (such as being in a noisy, crowded room) you can change the situation (by reducing the noise in the room or by not asking the person to be in that room).

Other interventions may be more complex, requiring a team of professional experts and/or expensive materials and implemented over the course of many years.

Unfortunately some interventions are scientifically unfeasible and potentially hazardous. And there is currently very little scientific research to support the use of some interventions despite sometimes extravagant and misleading claims about their effectiveness.

What the research does show is that some interventions do appear to help and these increasingly include those approaches developed by, or working with, autistic people.

However, there is no 'one-size fits all' solution. Each autistic person is a unique individual, with unique needs and abilities. The most effective interventions follow some key principles, such as an understanding of autism based on empathy and being tailored to meet the unique characteristics of each individual. Increasingly these focus on attitudes and how other people behave when working with autistic people, for example on how to make a difference in the way autism is regarded and in the environment.

Information Autism

Information Autism was set up to provide an objective evaluation of the scientific evidence behind the most commonly used interventions.

Here you can find information about a wide range of interventions, including what they are, what they are supposed to achieve and whether there is any supporting scientific evidence behind them.

Please note that we do not wish to prove or disprove a given intervention. Our aim is to report on the scientific evidence behind each intervention, irrespective of whether that evidence is positive, negative or mixed. Nor do we wish to promote or to denigrate any particular group of therapies. So we look equally carefully at educational, medical and other types of interventions.

Please also note that our descriptions and evaluations do not constitute a recommendation about whether or not an intervention is suitable for a particular autistic person. That is a decision for the autistic individual (and/or their carers, clinicians and others) to make.

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21 Sep 2022