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Can J Psychiatry. 2003 Sep;48(8):506-16.

Autism spectrum disorders: early detection, intervention, education, and psychopharmacological management.

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Departments of Pediatrics and Psychology, IWK Health Centre, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.


Our understanding and treatment of children with autism have changed dramatically since Leo Kanner first formally documented the disorder in 1943. With reference to the historical context, this paper reviews recent research addressing 4 major issues: early detection, intervention, education, and psychopharmacological management of children with autism and related (autistic) spectrum disorders (hereafter, "autism"). We conclude from our review of the evidence that, in the absence of additional, more compelling data, the clinical usefulness of existing screening instruments remains questionable. However, the potential importance of such research is underscored by the clear benefits of early behavioural intervention: despite differences in orientation, outcomes for children with autism can be significantly enhanced with early intensive intervention. Although many questions remain (notably, What are the critical therapeutic components? For whom? For what domains of development? For what level of intensity and duration?), interventions shown to be effective are all carefully planned, engineered, monitored, and designed to target specific skill domains. Including children with autism in regular classes within the public school system poses several challenges, the most pressing of which is the large number of school personnel who need to be trained in evidence-based teaching and behavioural management practices. Finally, psychotropic drugs may help to reduce some symptoms, but they are neither curative nor a substitute for other forms of support and intervention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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