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Autism Interventions: New York Times, Once Again, Pushes Non Evidence Based Floortime And Ignores Evidence Based ABA

Posted Feb 10 2011 4:40am
The New York Times is at it again ... pushing Floortime as an autism intervention ... without mentioning the lack of scientific, empirical evidence in support of its effectiveness. In A Child Psychiatrist Talks About Autism  the NYT features a column by Dr. Joshua D. Sparrow which promotes Floortime as an intervention for autistic children and encourages parents of autistic children to consider Floortime as an intervention for their children. (And of course, as usual with the NYT there is no mention of the solid base of evidence in support of ABA as an autism intervention):

"One promising treatment for such children is Floortime, a developmental, individualized and relational approach.

After a careful assessment of the child’s unique profile, therapists and parents using the Floortime approach work together to help the child learn to handle sensory stimulation while gradually interacting in more complex and rewarding ways. The goal is to help these children engage in meaningful relationships, expanding their capacity for communication, understanding and complex, abstract thought. One of the keys is to find the child’s motivation, and to use it as fuel for this work. Another is to make the work rewarding by making it fun and pleasurable for child, parent and therapist. But it is hard and time-consuming work, and families of children with autism spectrum disorders deserve all the support we can possibly give them. Experience has shown that children with autism who are given the support they need are able to expand their abilities to relate, to learn and to communicate, especially with their loved ones.


For more on autism spectrum disorders and Floortime, see the International Council on Learning and Developmental Disorders Web site.

Among the many helpful and hopeful books on autism spectrum disorders are those by the late child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan and the psychologist Serena Weider, including “Engaging Autism: Using the Floortime Approach to Help Children Relate, Communicate and Think,” and a new one to be published in April by the pediatrician Ricki Robinson, called “Autism Solutions: How to Create a Healthy and Meaningful Life for Your Child.”

The NYT presents this latest Floortime promotional vehicle without mentioning the limited evidence in support of its effectiveness as reviewed by the AAP and the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

The picture above is from the AAP Publications Retired and Reaffirmed  policy page and indicates that in September 2010 the American Academy of Pediatrics Reaffirmed the Clinical Report:  Management of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Pediatrics 2007 . The 2007 Report described the lack of empirical, scientifc evidence in support of the efficacy of DIR/Floortime as an intervention for autism spectrum disorders:
"The DIR approach focuses on (1) “floor-time” play sessions and other strategies that are purported to enhance relationships and emotional and social interactions to facilitate emotional and cognitive growth and development and (2) therapies to remediate “biologically based processing capacities,” such as auditory processing and language, motor planning and sequencing, sensory modulation, and visual-spatial processing. Published evidence of the efficacy of the DIR model is limited to an unblinded review of case records (with significant methodologic flaws, including inadequate documentation of the intervention, comparison to a suboptimal control group, and lack of documentation of treatment integrity and how outcomes were assessed by informal procedures55 ) and a descriptive follow-up study of a small subset (8%) of the original group of patients.59" (page 1165)

The following information is currently found on the ASAT web site and indicates that Floortime is plausible but essentially untested.

Association for Science in Autism Treatment

Developmentally-based Individual-difference Relationship-based intervention (DIR)/Floor Time


Research Summary: DIR is widely considered to be a plausible intervention approach (i.e., one that could be effective), but it has not been evaluated in peer-reviewed studies with strong experimental designs (National Research Council, 2001). An uncontrolled study reported favorable outcomes (Solomon et al., 2007).
Recommendations: An important area for future research is to evaluate DIR in studies with strong experimental designs. Professionals should present DIR as untested and encourage families who are considering this intervention to evaluate it carefully.

It isn't clear to me why the NYT pushes Floortime, a non evidence based autism intevention, and ignores ABA,  the most evidence based intervention for autism, as reviewed for several decades by authorities from the US Surgeon General, to state agencies in Maine, New York and California to the Association for Science in Autism Treatment to the American Academy of Pediatrics. I have to assume that the personal biases and prejudices of senior health editors at the New York Times lie behind this persistent attempt to promote non evidence based autism interventions and ignore or put a negative spin on ABA.  I can think of no other reason, rational or not, for the NYT's  misguided autism intervention reporting.
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