IACC RFI Submission
My apologies for this being a little late. Unfortunately, I had some illness to cope with and was unable to meet the Friday deadline.
My concern in all of research into autism and extending to what is done about it is that very little is known about autism period. Therefore, interventions have in general little evidence-base since none of them start where understanding of where the autistic person begins. This is perhaps the only field in the helping professions where this is the case and a sorry state of affairs it is. The reasons are I think mainly historical.
To date, what happened with the developmentally delayed was overseen by a fairly radical form of behaviorism, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) derived from B F Skinner's operant conditioning paradigm. I should stress that this is an evolutionary dead end as far as mainstream psychology is concerned and any enquiring researcher should read Professor John Mills "Control: A History of Behavioral Psychology" as a fairly good description of the fatal flaws in that paradigm. Suffice it to say, ABA and its research methods, because they have no need in their world to delineate what autism is in order to treat it, have been the reason why so little is known and why interventions have very little in the way of an evidence base. Behaviorists on their self report will proclaim the effectiveness of their interventions. However this is little more than anecdote from a biased source given that in forty years there has been exactly one randomised controlled trial of ABA as an intervention, Smith, Groen Wynn, 2000, and the results were marginal to say the least (especially taking the two errata into account). This problem with the great divide between research and intervention was also noted in the NRC 2001 report.
There are multiple reasons, why it is absolutely essential that what is done, educationally and in other ways with the autistic population starts with an evidence base of the ways in which autistics are in learning styles, in perception and so on. This is what is missing in the field for all practicable purposes and that is an indictment on everyone working in it. Why is it that according to recent report, most social skills interventions are outright failures? Well perhaps it's because these are behaviorally based and therefore divorced from any knowledge of where the autistic in this social equation is coming from.
I would ask that the IACC spend more dollars on cognitive psychological investigation of autism. It's a new field, but not totally devoid of information. Dawson et al's "Autistic Learning", available in pdf from http://psych.wisc.edu/lang/pdf/Dawson_AutisticLearning.pdf is a decent primer.