It is estimated that 1 in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). Although children do not “outgrow” autism, research continues to indicate that early identification and treatment may lead to significantly improved outcomes. Often, these treatments and interventions are comprehensive, yet individualized to meet a child’s specific needs.
The Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) is a state agency that works to improve the quality of life of children who have disabilities and developmental delays and to enable their full participation in society. The DARS Autism Program delivers treatment and services to children 3 to 8 years old through contracts with local community agencies and organizations. To provide the most effective services, DARS has commissioned MCPER not only to identify and provide recommendations for effective early intervention treatment approaches, but also to evaluate DARS treatment programs currently serving young children with ASD in Texas.
Myriad comprehensive educational treatments are designed to address the characteristics of ASD (e.g., Pivotal Response Therapy, Lovaas Model Based in Applied Behavior Analysis, Early Start Denver Model, Floortime, Training and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children; Autism Speaks, 2013). However, questions remain regarding the identification of the necessary components for effective treatments and how these treatments should be conducted. Our aim is to answer the following questions:
- In which developmental areas (e.g., communication, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities) are the comprehensive programs effective?
- What components of treatment programs are related to effective outcomes?
- What characteristics of treatment service delivery are related to effective outcomes?
- What specific characteristics of children and families are related to effective outcomes?
- What are the best practices for inclusion of treatment services in an educational setting?
- What are the funding options for treatment services?
- What state and federal laws relate to insurance coverage of treatment services for autism?
- What evidence supports long-term outcomes that verify positive changes in developmental trajectory?
The goals of this project are to complete the following:
- Synthesis of the literature: We will systematically identify and synthesize peer-reviewed literature on effective early intervention programs for children with ASD who are younger than 10.
- Summary of recommendations: Based on the results of the synthesis of the literature, we will provide a summary report of our findings and recommendations of best practices for comprehensive educational treatments that address characteristics of ASD.
- Program evaluations: In an effort to provide the best treatment for children with ASD receiving services in Texas and their families, we will evaluate DARS autism treatment program data according to the recommendations and findings of the literature synthesis.