Understanding Autism: A List of Cochrane Reviews

Back to feature: Autism Matters – to Everyone 

The mysteries surrounding the causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have motivated researchers around the world to focus on the diagnosis, assessment and treatment of this complex neurological condition. Experts are particularly interested in the health and social challenges that people with ASD face, such as gastrointestinal disturbances, intellectual disabilities, verbal and non-verbal communication problems and repetitive movements.

Many research projects are dedicated to improving diagnostic techniques, as early detection of autism seems to improve outcomes. It is also important for us to advance our understanding of cognition and behaviour in people living with autism, so that we can provide the best health care and reduce stigmatization.

The Cochrane Library is a key resource, containing more than 5,300 Cochrane Reviews. Each review is the result of a systematic synthesis of all the evidence on a specific health research question. Below are a few examples that highlight autism research:

  1. Group therapy for improved social skills in autistic individuals

    People with ASD often experience difficulties in social interactions. A recent Cochrane Review assessed the effectiveness of social skills groups in helping improve the social skills of higher functioning individuals with ASD. The findings suggest that participants with ASD who take part in these groups may make modest gains in social competence, have better friendships, and experience less loneliness.

  2. Music therapy for people with autism

    Music therapy is used to help facilitate communication and expression, and may therefore be helpful to people with ASD. A Cochrane Review suggests that musical improvisation may help people with autism develop important communicative behaviours, such as eye contact and turn-taking, that they may otherwise be lacking. The findings indicate that music therapy may have positive effects on the communicative skills of children with autistic spectrum disorder.

  3. Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) for kids with Autism

    A specific form of behavioral intervention, referred to as Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI), is a highly structured teaching approach for young children with ASD. A recent Cochrane Review suggests that EIBI is an effective treatment for children with ASD. The evidence points to gains in the areas of IQ, adaptive behavior, socialization, communication, and daily living skills; with the largest gains made in IQ and the smallest in socialization.

  4. Novel drug as treatment for autistic disorder

    Aripiprazole is a novel antipsychotic drug approved by the FDA for treating autism. A Cochrane Review suggests that aripiprazole can be effective in treating some behavioral aspects of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in children, such as irritability, hyperactivity, and repetitive actions. However, some children taking the medication experience side effects, including weight gain, sedation, drooling and tremor.

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