McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Study to search for more answers on autism subject

By Sue Johnston

Published: June 11, 2007
Jo-Ann Reitzel
Jo-Ann Reitzel, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences.

A research study that may provide hope of finding an effective, alternative intervention for children with autism who do not respond to Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI), is being conducted under the leadership of McMaster University.

The study is designed to determine if participation in a functional behavioural skills program provided by therapists in one-on-one and group settings, and additional training for parents, will help those children who are not responding well to IBI.

While IBI is an effective treatment for many children with autism – a severe neurological disorder - it is extremely expensive and there are long waiting lists for the provincially funded programs. IBI for children at the severe end of the autism spectrum has been funded across Ontario since 2000. Recent research has shown that while many children improve, a substantial proportion of children in treatment do not make any significant gains in cognitive ability or behaviour, despite 20 to 40 hours weekly of therapy, at a cost of about $60,000 a year.

It is estimated that one in about 165 children in Canada is afflicted with some degree of autism spectrum disorder, which results in extreme difficulties in communicating, socializing and behaving, as well as severe developmental delays in some.

Jo-Ann Reitzel, Clinical Director of the Hamilton-Niagara Regional Autism Intervention Program at McMaster Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, has received $150,000 from the Ontario Mental Health Foundation (OMHF) to conduct a two-year study of how young children with severe autism fare when provided with a psychosocial intervention based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). ABA involves a variety of methods for assessing children's behaviours and learning needs, and intervening with techniques to teach skills and behaviours.

Reitzel said the study is important as professionals have an obligation to find other methods for helping children with autism develop better communication, social and behavioural skills, and alleviate some of the extreme strain experienced by parents and other caregivers.

"Some children simply don’t respond to IBI, and we need to find alternative treatment for those children," she said. "Right now there is no clear indication in the (research) literature about ‘what next?’ What do we recommend for those children who aren’t helped by IBI?"

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