Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A New Approach to Teaching Youth With Autism

Source: Medical News Today
As the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders continues to increase, the one thing that won’t change is the need for those children to develop social skills. Statistics show that if these students are able to communicate effectively, they can achieve success in the classroom, and later, in the workplace. In addition to the challenges facing each individual student, educators find themselves facing dwindling resources. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri are developing an effective social competence curriculum, with a virtual classroom component, that could help educators meet the demand of this growing population.

Janine Stichter, a professor of special education at the MU College of Education, and her team have developed a curriculum that has shown success in an after-school format and is now being tested during daily school activities, with help from two three-year grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education. The key factors in Stichter’s curriculum focus on specific needs and behavioral traits within the autism spectrum. By doing this, the instructor is able to deliver a more individualized instruction within a small group format and optimize the response to intervention.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Outstanding Autism Resource for the School Professional

A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools
by Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, NCSP, was recently honored as an Award-Winning Finalist in the Education/Academic category of the "Best Books 2010" Awards sponsored by USA Book News. USA Book News.com is the premiere online magazine and review website for mainstream and independent publishing houses. Over 500 winners and finalists were announced in over 140 categories covering print and audio books. 
Filling a critical void in the autism literature, this authoritative yet accessible book provides school psychologists, educators, support professionals, and parents with a best practice guide to screening, assessment, and intervention for school-age children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Grounded in the latest research, special features include illustrative case examples and an index to 50 evidence-based best practice recommendations. This book makes an ideal text for graduate-level training courses in school psychology and is certain to become a widely used resource that will meet the needs of both experienced psychologists and those new to the profession.
                              ISBN: 978-1-84905-811-7
                                List: $24.95; 208 Pages 
                      Order your copy today!     
                    Toll Free: 1-866-416-1078 or online:


Friday, October 15, 2010

Best Practice Research: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) for Autism

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments with their children as an alternative, or in addition to, conventional treatments. CAM treatments are controversial and, for most, their efficacy has not been scientifically established. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a scientifically supported treatment for decompression sickness, is being increasingly recommended as a treatment for autism. Although anecdotal evidence may exist, there is a need for rigorous controlled scientific research to evaluate the treatment effects of HBOT on the core symptoms of ASD.
The journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders reports the results of a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial study comparing HBOT to placebo in children with autistic disorder who received 80 sessions of treatment over a 15-week period. Multiple standardized instruments and direct behavioral observations were used to evaluate treatment effects on ASD symptoms. The results indicated no significant differences between HBOT and placebo groups across any of the outcome measures (social reciprocity, communication, and repetitive behaviors). The study concludes that HBOT does not result in a clinically significant improvement of the symptoms of autism and that it is not recommended for the treatment of ASD symptoms.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that hyperbaric oxygen treatment is not an approved or effective treatment or cure for autism. Companies and websites claiming hyperbaric oxygen can treat or cure autism are misleading the public, according to the FDA. "Patients may incorrectly believe that these devices have been proven safe and effective for uses not cleared by FDA, which may cause them to delay or forgo proven medical therapies," says Nayan Patel, a biomedical engineer in FDA's Anesthesiology Devices Branch. "In doing so, they may experience a lack of improvement and/or worsening of their existing condition(s)."

Granpeesheh, D., Tarbox, J., Dixon, D. R., Wilke, A. E., Allen, M. S., & Bradstreet, J. J. (2010). Randomized trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 268-275.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, CCBT, NCSP is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sensory Integration Therapy

Unusual sensory responses are relatively common in children with ASD and often one of the earliest indicators of autism in childhood. Although considered a “nontriadic” feature, when present, sensory issues may interfere with performance in many developmental and functional domains across home and school contexts. Best practice guidelines indicate that when needed, educational programs for children with ASD should integrate an appropriately structured physical and sensory milieu in order to accommodate any unique sensory processing challenges.

Sensory integration (SI) therapy is often used individually or as a component of a broader program of occupational therapy for children with ASD. While sensory activities may be helpful as part of an overall educational program, we have no reliable and convincing empirical evidence that sensory-based treatments have specific effects. It should be noted, however, that a lack of empirical data does not infer that the intervention or treatment is ineffective, but rather that efficacy has not been objectively demonstrated or validated. Interventions to address sensory related problems, when utilized, should be integrated at various levels into the student’s individualized educational program (IEP). Comprehensive educational programming may also include consultation with knowledgeable professionals (e.g. occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, physical therapists, adaptive physical educators) to provide guidance about potential interventions for children whose sensory processing or motoric difficulties interfere with educational performance.
All interventions and treatments should be based on sound theoretical constructs, robust methodologies, and empirical studies of effectiveness. Different approaches to intervention have been found to be effective for children with autism, and no comparative research has been conducted that demonstrates one approach is superior to another. The selection of specific interventions should be based on goals developed from a comprehensive assessment of each child’s unique needs and family preferences. A more detailed discussion of assessment domains (e.g. communication, social, sensory, academic) can be found in “A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools.

©Lee A. Wilkinson

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Dimensional Approach to Autism

The pervasive developmental disorders (PDD) have traditionally been viewed as categorical diagnoses. With a categorical or dichotomous scheme, disorders are either present or absent. For example, the DSM-IV-TR and ICD-10 list specific criteria for each disorder that must be met to receive a diagnostic classification. Similarly, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specify categories of special education disability. Both are categorical rather than dimensional systems of classification (e.g., a child meets or does not meet criteria) and both focus on a description of behavior rather than function.
       We now question whether autism should be conceptualized as a distinct clinical entity or as a continuum of severity. For example, children with the same diagnostic classification are likely to be heterogeneous and many childhood disorders, including autism, fall along a continuum in the general population. Categorical classification fails to account for these quantitative differences between children with the same core symptoms. In fact, there is a growing consensus among professionals who work with children with PDD that the differences between the higher functioning subtypes are not particularly useful in terms of either intervention or outcome and that autism is more appropriately conceptualized as a spectrum condition rather than an “all-or-nothing” diagnostic entity. We also recognize that traits similar to those observed in PDD are not restricted to children with a clinical diagnosis. This is especially important because even mild degrees of autistic symptomatology can have an adverse effect on a child’s adaptive and school functioning. Thus, while categories are much easier to conceptualize, they tend to be of minimal use in actual practice.
       This dimensional perspective is reflected in the American Psychiatric Association’s recently released draft diagnostic criteria for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Specifically, the proposal for a new category of “autism spectrum disorder,” which incorporates the current diagnoses of autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). This single “spectrum disorder” better describes our current understanding about the clinical presentation and course of the pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs), and should facilitate more effective identification and treatment going forward.

Wilkinson, L. A. (2010). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism and Asperger syndrome in schools. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Proposed Draft Revisions to DSM Disorders and Criteria

The American Psychiatric Association has released the proposed draft diagnostic criteria for the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
These are initial drafts of the recommendations made to date by the DSM-5 Work Groups. One of the most significant proposed revisions is in the diagnostic category of Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence. Specifically, Work Group members propose a new category of “autism spectrum disorder,” which incorporates the current diagnoses of autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). This category reflects members’ conclusion that “a single spectrum disorder” better describes our current understanding about pathology and clinical presentation of the pervasive developmental disorders.

A critically important feature of the proposed criteria for ASD is a change from three (autistic triad) to two domains; “social/communication deficits” and “fixated and repetitive pattern of behaviors.” Several social/communication criteria were merged to clarify diagnostic requirements and reflect research indicating that deficits in communication are “inseparable and more accurately considered as a single set of symptoms...”  Members also note that language deficits are neither universal in ASD, nor should they be considered as a defining feature of the diagnosis. This is consistent with Simon Baron-Cohen’s (2008) notion that the social and communication domains cannot be separated, as “communication is always social.” Likewise, Wilkinson (2010) notes that in actual practice, it is very difficult to identify individuals with significant impairment in social and behavioral domains who do not have some degree of communication deficit. Thus, it is possible that someone who meets the DSM-IV-TR criteria for Asperger’s disorder will also meet the criteria for autistic disorder. The proposed elimination of Asperger’s disorder from the DSM is also consistent with Lorna Wing’s initial contention that this pervasive developmental disorder is part of a spectrum of conditions and that there are no clear boundaries separating it from other autistic disorders (Wing, 2005).

Another significant revision in the criteria involves the requirement that “delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the three core developmental areas be present by the age of three.” The proposed criteria now state that although an autism spectrum disorder must be present from infancy or early childhood, it may not be identified until later in the child’s development. This is consistent with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) definition of autism in which a child who manifests the characteristics of ‘‘autism’’ after age 3 could still be diagnosed as having the disorder. This revision is especially important because many capable children with ASD are not diagnosed in early childhood and can be identified for intervention and treatment at later ages.

The proposed criteria for the new category of autism spectrum disorder are as follows:

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Must meet criteria 1, 2, and 3:

1. Clinically significant, persistent deficits in social communication and interactions, as manifest by ALL of the following:

a. Marked deficits in nonverbal and verbal communication used for social interaction:

b. Lack of social reciprocity;

c. Failure to develop and maintain peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least TWO of the following:

a. Stereotyped motor or verbal behaviors, or unusual sensory behaviors

b. Excessive adherence to routines and ritualized patterns of behavior

c. Restricted, fixated interests

3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities)

A more detailed summary and discussion of the proposed draft revisions to DSM disorders and criteria are available from http://www.dsm5.org. A reminder that these are initial drafts of the recommendations of the DSM Work Groups and that comments are invited. The public will be able to submit comments until April 20, 2010. The final approved version of the fifth edition is expected in 2013.

Baron-Cohen, S. (2008). Autism and Asperger syndrome: The facts. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wing, L. (2005). Problems of categorical classification systems. In F. R. Volkmar, R. Paul, A. Klin, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders: Vol. 1. Diagnosis, development, neurobiology, and behavior (3rd ed., pp. 583–605). New York: John Wiley.

Wilkinson, L. A. (2010). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism and Asperger syndrome in schools. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The National Autism Center's National Standards Project

The National Autism Center has completed its National Standards Project on addressing the need for evidence-based practice guidelines for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The primary goal of the project was to provide critical information about which treatments have been shown to be effective for children, adolescents, and young adults with ASD. This multiyear and comprehensive analysis examines and quantifies the level of research supporting interventions and treatments that target the core deficits of ASD. The findings include the identification of eleven (11) “established’ treatments; twenty-two (22) “emerging” treatments; and five (5) “unestablished” treatments. The report is available from the National Autism Center at their website (www.nationalautismcenter.org). This information is especially important to service providers, educators, caregivers and parents as it identifies evidence-based treatments and provides standards and guidelines on making treatment choices. Interventions or treatments identified as categories of “established” and effective treatments include the following.

• Antecedent Package
• Behavioral Package
• Comprehensive Behavioral Treatment for Young Children
• Joint Attention Intervention
• Modeling
• Naturalistic Teaching Strategies
• Peer Training Package
• Pivotal Response Treatment
• Schedules
• Self-management
• Story-based Intervention package.

Treatment strategies associated with these categories include applied behavior analysis (ABA), positive behavior support, discrete trial training, incidental teaching, peer-mediated interactions, pivotal response teaching, schedules, self-monitoring, and perspective taking activities such as social stories. More detailed descriptions are available from the National Standards Report (2009). The report also suggests that practitioners continue to follow the recommendations for the provision of services provided by the National Research Council (2001). Specifically, educational services provided as soon as the child is identified with an autism spectrum disorder and scientifically validated approaches implemented according to each child’s unique educational and developmental needs.

National Autism Center (2009). National Standards Project-Addressing the need for evidence-based practice guidelines for autism spectrum disorders. Randolph, MA: National Autism Center.

National Research Council (2001). Educating children with autism. Committee on Educational Interventions for Children Autism, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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