New autism guide helps parents and providers sift through mountains of research

Aug 8, 2012

As more and more children are diagnosed with autism, there's also a lot more research on the disorder.  Now, a new guidebook can help Missouri parents and people who work with kids on the autism spectrum sort through it all.

Vicki McCarrell has a college-age son on the autism spectrum.

"It happened, born this way, we love him to death. But what we want to do is we want to find a way to make their lives the best they can be."

McCarrell is also the deputy director of the Division of Developmental Disabilities at the Missouri Department Mental Health. And she is on the oversight committee of the Missouri Autism Guidelines Initiative, the group behind the new guide to evidence-based interventions. She said the manual can help parents who are bombarded with information from all over: magazines, concerned friends, the internet.

"You don't want to waste your time, and you certainly don't want to waste your money on things that are not going to work."

Kim Ratcliffe, with the Missouri School Boards' Association, also helped put the book together. 

"We are in a very interesting time, where there is just a wealth of information," she said. "But it's not easy to discern the quality of that information, or sometimes even the source of where that information comes from."

The new guidebook, aimed at both parents and professionals, looks at six recent national reviews of autism research, summarizing the results in charts and diagrams. 

"It's not single pieces of research, it is hundreds of pieces of research," said Ratcliffe. "Research-based or evidence-based practices, we know, lead to the most positive outcomes."

John Mantovani is also on the oversight committee. He is a neurologist who chairs the Department of Pediatrics at Mercy Children's Hospital in St. Louis. He said one of the most important aspects of the guide is that it includes multiple perspectives – drawing on educators, medical professionals and psychologists. 

That's helpful for physicians, because much of the research included in the book wouldn't otherwise be readily available to physicians.

"For example, the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders is a group which is primarily made up of psychologists and behavioral specialists. So, much of the work they did would be a bit remote from what a practicing physician or even a specialist physician might run across."

But autism research is a moving target – two of the research reviews included are already being updated with new studies.

Kim Ratcliffe said she hopes the guide will inspire further study.

"We know that this is a snapshot in time, but it's a beginning and we hope that there will be much to follow in terms of additional information when there are more reviews completed."

Parents can download the guide online, or order a free copy.