Thursday, January 17, 2008

Autism and AutismPro - Buzzwords Aplenty But Where Is The Evidence???

AutismPro is a commercial internet based software package available from VEC Inc. VEC is undeniably expert at self promotion. It's latest of many Press Releases is "evidence" of VEC's very substantial self promotional skills. In an earlier commentary, AutismPro - "Somewhat" Evidence Based Internet Autism Intervention or Not Evidence Based At All?, I questioned the evidence basis of AutismPro. Apparently I needn't have worried. After all, highlighted in the latest Thomas Mitchell/VEC Inc. Press Release is information which appears to address my concerns:

The rich content represents evidence-based best practices for children within the autism spectrum of disorders as defined by the US National Research Council in 2001

The above quote is from renowned autism expert Kathleen A. Quill. That should be the end of any questions about the evidence bases of AutismPro right? Well no it isn't. Dr. Quill, as the Press Release acknowledges, is a professional advisor to AutismPro and has been since its inception. It is difficult to view her as a detached, objective source for assessing the merits of AutismPro.

More importantly the quote from Dr. Quill addresses none of the issues I raised in my earlier commentary. The various interventions offered in the AutismPro package vary in the strength of evidence in support. Further, when various interventions are offered in combination they become a new, eclectic, intervention for which new evidence is required in order to be able to claim that the intervention is "evidence-based". Presumably the qualifications, experience and skills of the person using the program would affect the results achieved.

Autism is a perplexing neurological disorder. The delivery of any autism intervention by a pre-packaged program far from the time and place of the challenges involved in educating or treating an autistic child introduces a new element to any intervention used. AutismPro is unquestionably innovative, a buzzword that will undoubtedly help sell it to Education Departments and School Districts but it is very much open to debate as to whether it is "evidence based".

None of which is meant to detract from the admirable job done by Mr. Mitchell and the VEC Inc. PR team in selling AutismPro. The latest Press Release includes an impressive list of buzz words and phrases some of which are set out below:

autism software solution
innovative software program
intelligent software systems
state-of-the-art Internet technologies
impressive collection of seasoned special educators
world-renown autism specialists
enable educators
educational achievement
collective brainpower of leading autism experts
comprehensive web-based special education case management system
robust reporting capabilities
comprehensive end-to-end instructional management system

The buzz words and phrases in this latest VEC release are impressive. But where is the evidence that AutismPro itself is an evidence based effective intervention for educating or treating autistic children? In a 2006 Press Release VEC Inc. stated that:

"Dr Holden is currently undertaking a research trial consisting of 46 families across Ontario, including 63 adult care providers and 52 children aged 2 to 9, using AutismPro. The study is being done in partnership with Autism Ontario and Autism Spectrum Disorder - Canadian American Research Consortium (ASD - CARC) out of Queen's University. Participants have been provided with a one year subscription to the program."

I had some concerns about the objective value of research trials being conducted by Dr Holden who was also an AutismPro consultant. But that being said, what were the results of the studies which were being conducted in 2006?

If AutismPro is an evidence based effective intervention for autistic children where is the evidence?

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