Seven Tips for Navigating Research

An article in a parenting magazine touts a new diet for kids on the spectrum. One of the moms at the bus stop tells you about a new method for controlling tantrums. Your uncle suggests that you “just need to be more firm” with your son. A friend tells you about another friend whose child was “cured” with vitamins. A search on the internet gives you millions of links for “autism treatments”. The members of the team that work with your child give you contradictory advice. You just want to help your son or daughter, and between therapies and school and family life, you do not have time to properly research every new treatment. How do you make the decision that is right for you?

Here are seven tips for navigating through the sea of papers, studies, websites, and information that families have found to be helpful.

1. Is it an Evidence Based Practice (EBP)?
EBP uses interventions based on scientific evidence. This means that clinicians question, research, test and review outcomes to determine if a particular treatment works. The study is peer-reviewed and conducted in a manner in which others can replicate it with the same results. EBPs yield the most effective treatments.

2. Does it discount proven methods?
When you are reading about a new treatment, does it tell you that EBPs are all wrong? Does it tell you that experts are hiding the “truth”? According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the standard of care for children with ASD should:

“emphasize four basic treatment recommendations: First, physicians should help families obtain appropriate, evidenced-based educational and behavioral interventions. Second, doctors should ask about use of alternative or complementary treatments. Third, they should offer medications for behavioral problems only after all other approaches have been tried. And fourth, they should maintain an active role in long-term treatment.” (from

3. Is it really an Evidence Based Practice?
Is this a current study? While there are some studies that stand the test of time, the more current research accounts for changes that affect treatment outcomes. Also, look where the research is done. Look for studies that are connected to large universities; their internal review process will help to eliminate false claims.

4. Who published the study?
Again, is it published in a scholarly peer reviewed journal. How does the publication serve the author? What do they have to gain from you participating in their suggested therapy?

5. Who participated in the study?
Look for studies that use a larger group of participants, or one that has been replicated numerous times. Look for participants who are similar to your child in age and diagnosis.

6. Does it focus on personal anecdotes instead of hard data?
Personal stories and memoirs have a place in your library and may even give you a direction for your own personal research. But they should not be used to refute hard data and evidence-based research done by professionals. Important factors are often unnoticed in anecdotal data.

7. Is the author selling something?
Buyer beware. If you have to buy something that is only available from the author of the article, be wary.

Autism Speaks has recently shared research identifying 27 evidence based practices based on 29,000 studies of 100’s of treatments for Autism. The results can be found here: Autism Speaks Article Link

Currently, ABA Therapy is recommended by the Surgeon General as the #1 recommended treatment for Autism. However, each family must decide what they feel is best for their child. Each child is unique and each family has their own individual needs. As you navigate the options available to you, consider the 7 points above and do your research!


By Verbal Beginnings’ Michelle Hausman.

Recent Posts