Evidence-based Practices

Categories: Applied Behavior Analysis; ASD and DD, Child-focused

These days, many of us suffer from information overload. There are 24-hour news channels reporting on medical breakthroughs, educational issues, and the economy. With so much information out there, it can be difficult to feel confident making a decision about a product to purchase or a treatment or intervention to use. 

This is particularly true for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Scan the Internet for treatments for ASD, and you are likely to find hundreds, or even thousands, of “promising treatments” listed. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these interventions are not supported by scientific research.
It is also not uncommon for some professionals to claim there is scientific support for a intervention when, in fact, the support is based on very poor science or simply anecdotal information. Not all science is created equal. There are well-conducted studies that provide rigorous evaluations of interventions, and there are poorly conducted studies providing no reliable information about interventions.
Where does a parent begin when evaluating the myriad of interventions available for children with an ASD?
Learning more about evidence-based practice is one way parents can gain more confidence as they begin the process of identifying effective intervention options. Evidence-based practice is a term first used in the medical profession in the early 1990s. In recent years, the term “evidence-based practice” has appeared in a variety of professions including nursing, education, psychology, and physical therapy.
Dr. David Sackett, a pioneer in the field of evidence-based practice, described three important components for practitioners to consider when planning treatment or interventions for patients/clients:

  • utilize the best scientific evidence;

  • consider professional judgment; and

  • consider a patient or client’s values and beliefs.

At the core of evidence-based practice is the use of procedures that have quality scientific support. When clinicians or practitioners incorporate the three components listed above into treatment plan decisions, they are developing an evidence-based practice. 
The federal government has recognized the value of evidence-based practice with the passage of two laws: “No Child Left Behind Act, Public Law 107-110,” and “Individuals with Disabilities Act, Public Law 94-142.” These laws were designed to ensure that every student receives services that are evidence-based. Parents should discuss and advocate for the use of evidence-based practices with their child’s educators.
Both parents and educators may find it helpful to reference reports published by the National Autism Center, May Institute’s Center for the Promotion of Evidence-based Practice.
A Parent’s Guide to Autism and Evidence-based Practice helps parents as they make decisions about how to incorporate evidence-based practice when selecting interventions for their child.
Evidence-Based Practice and Autism in the Schools was written for educators to provide them with information regarding evidence-based interventions.
The National Autism Center’s most recent publication – The National Standards Project, Phase 2, (NSP2) identifies 14 “Established Interventions” for children and adolescents that are supported by reputable research, produce beneficial outcomes, and are known to be effective. It also identifies one Established Intervention for adults on the autism spectrum.
All of these publications are available for download at no cost at
Selecting an effective intervention for a child with ASD is a tremendously challenging responsibility. Parents who take the time to educate themselves about evidence-based practice will have knowledge that will allow them to make informed decisions about interventions. Knowledge of evidence-based practice will also help parents identify qualified professionals specializing in the treatment of ASD.  Parents teaming up with qualified professionals to make decisions about interventions will help their child become more independent, self-confident, and ultimately reach his or her highest potential.

By Hanna C. Rue, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Dr. Hanna Rue was the Chairperson of the National Standards Project, Phase 2, which was completed and published in April of 2015.

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601  or visit