Allied Health Professionals and Autism

Woman with a child who is readingInterventions such as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy are provided by health authorities free of charge. In some cases families choose to supplement these services with private therapy. Allied Health Professionals are trained to assess and diagnose problems related to their area of work. They also undertake a range of interventions that are designed to address specific difficulties. Some interventions are based on models or theoretical view points e.g. Sensory Integrative Therapy, others are focussed on problem solving in functional ways e.g. helping individuals with self help skills such as dressing or making requests. Most therapists will use a mix of styles of intervention (reference Canadian Occupational Therapy Survey, 1997). These will be based on the perceived needs of the individual in the school or work environment, family and home environment and sometimes the client themselves. The therapist will aim to balance the wishes of the client and those around them with the recommendations that arise from their assessment of the problem.

Although there are very few studies that evaluate interventions provided by Allied Health Professionals, most families wish their child to receive this assistance alongside appropriate educational and local authority provision. Some attempts are now being made to assess the value of these interventions but difficulties arise in designing appropriate research studies. For example truly rigorous studies should include a control group who do not receive the intervention. At present most therapists would not consider withholding intervention from a group of children to test this out. Researchers are now attempting to compare techniques within groups whilst treating all children and sometimes design studies in which children on a waiting list are used as a 'control' group. At present there are no published papers reporting on the results of this sort of research in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs).

In speech and language therapy some specific strategies that have been devised for individuals with ASDs have received some attention from researchers. These include evaluation of the Picture Exchange Communication Scheme, TEACCH, some Verbal Behaviour programmes and parent teaching programmes e.g. More than Words and Early Bird. Some single subject studies have been undertaken in occupational therapy using therapeutic approaches of Sensory Integrative Therapy or the Cognitive Orientation to daily Occupational Performance, although it is not possible to generalise these results to a broader population of individuals with ASD. These are techniques that speech and language therapists and occupational therapists (respectively) may incorporate into their treatment but they would not be the only focus in most cases. Other professionals, such as teachers, specialist nurses and psychologists will sometimes provide interventions from these programmes. Research described on this web site mainly relates to the evaluation of specific programmes rather than generic intervention from Allied Health Professionals.

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27 May 2022