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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2018 Apr;59(4):424-443. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12892.

Annual Research Review: The state of autism intervention science: progress, target psychological and biological mechanisms and future prospects.

Green J1,2,3,4, Garg S1,2,3,4.

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Division of Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology, School of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.
Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, Manchester, UK.
Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.
Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK.



There has been recent systematic review of key evidence in psychosocial intervention in autism but little review of biological treatments.


We analyse the current literature from the perspective of intervention and mechanism targets across social and biological development.


The overall quality of trials evidence in autism intervention remains relatively low, despite some recent progress. Many treatments in common use have little or no evidence base. This is very concerning in such an important disorder. A variety of psychosocial interventions can show effect to improve some short-term effects on children's immediate dyadic social interactions, for instance with caregivers. But showing true effectiveness in this developmental disorder requires generalisation of such effects into wider social contexts, on autism symptoms and in long-term progress in development. Only a few interventions so far have begun to show this. A number of early phase interventions on biological targets have shown real promise, but none has yet progressed to larger scale effectiveness trials on behavioural or symptom outcomes.


There has been enough progress in psychosocial intervention research now to be able to begin to identify some evidence-based practice in autism treatment. To consolidate and improve outcomes, the next phase of intervention research needs improved trial design, and an iterative approach building on success. It may also include the testing of potential synergies between promising biological and psychosocial interventions.


Autism spectrum disorders; intervention; neurobiology; parent training; parent-child interaction


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