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Recent Studies on Autism From the Perspective of Behavioral PsychoogyEssay

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Psychology -- Behaviorism -- Behavioral Psychology of Autism

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a pool of persistent neurodevelopmental disorders usually diagnosed in early childhood. The high incidence of ASD-like symptoms has led to abundant national and international studies analyzing ASD from an array of angles, with both the United Kingdom and the United States dominating recent notable research. However, the uncoordinated, arbitrary approach to studying, diagnosing and treating ASD is evident in the many inadequacies of current ASD studies. Fortunately, researchers are quick to suggest methods for more constant and all-inclusive analysis of the ASD problem to increasingly hone diagnosis and treatment.


The incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in national and international populations, particularly obvious in early childhood, has led to numerous national and international studies focused on diagnosis and treatment. Principally with the leadership of the United Kingdom and the United States, modern research teams are constantly refining our knowledge of autistic-like symptoms, effective diagnosis and productive intervention. The rather eclectic and disconnected approaches to diagnosing and treating ASD have created noticeable gaps in the research and practice of treating the disorder. However, researchers are mindful of their analyses' shortcomings and readily offer persuasive suggestions for future research.

3. Methods/Results of Recent Studies and Discussion

Numerous recent national and international studies have examined ASD and interventions from a variety of perspectives. Merely 10 studies are mentioned here but the number and assortment of studies recently performed are daunting. Researchers in Great Britain have conducted numerous studies, particularly regarding school children. One study headed by V. Hallett examined 6,000 pairs of twins born in the UK from 1994 through 1996 to study the relationship between anxiety and depression found in children with ASD. The study relied on reports of the twins' parents at two time points: one at the ages of 7-8 and the other at the age of 12 (Hallett, Ronald, Rijsdijk, & Happe, 2010, p. 821). They found that autistic-like qualities at the first time point heavily influenced internalization of severe anxiety and depression at the second time point; furthermore, Autistic-like communication problems at the first time point had the most influence (Hallett, Ronald, Rijsdijk, & Happe, 2010, p. 823). The study team also found that internalized Autism-like characteristics at the first time point were about half as influential in the development of obvious Autistic traits by the second time point (Hallett, Ronald, Rijsdijk, & Happe, 2010, p. 826). In another study in Great Britain, this led by M. Maskey, and published in 2013 but involving a study conducted in 2009, researchers examined 863 ASD children from northeastern England, with particular emphasis on the relationship between emotional and behavioral problems (Maskey, Warnell, Parr, Le Couteur, & Mcconachie, 2013, p. 852). The team found problems in sleeping, toileting, eating, hyperactivity, self-injury, sensory problems, anxiety, tantrums and aggressive behavior. Anxiety, tantrums and aggressive behavior were found across the spectrum of children; however, children with language and learning difficulties were likelier to have at least 4 of the classic ASD problems (Maskey, Warnell, Parr, Le Couteur, & Mcconachie, 2013, p. 843). The G. Russell et al. study published in 2012 in Great Britain examined the differences between behaviors of children diagnosed with ASD and children who exhibited Autistic traits from the early ages of 3 or 4 but were undiagnosed, even in their teens (Russell, et al., 2012, p. 736). Comparing the data of 71 ASD-diagnosed children with those of 142 undiagnosed children, the team found that the increasing behavioral separation of the two groups as they grew older supports the belief that it could be difficult to differentiate toddlers with autistic symptoms who improve with age from ASD-diagnosed toddlers who continue to be compromised by ASD as they age (Russell, et al., 2012, p. 741). It is obvious from exploring copious studies that the United Kingdom has helped lead the research on ASD symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

The United States has also delved into numerous aspects of addressing ASD, particularly in children. Pellicano et al. examined changes in diagnosed symptoms involving 37 ASD children from age 5 through age 8 and living within the United States in 2005-6 (Pellicano, 2012, p. 159). The team used the scores of the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), administered at the two relevant ages. Researchers found that 19% of the examined children made significant changes in those 3 years in that they no longer met ASD criteria. This finding was directly related to the early age at which the improved children received intervention and the team concluded that early intervention is a substantial factor for long-term improvement of young children diagnosed with ASD (Pellicano, 2012, p. 163). In addition, stressing the importance of the sense of self for wellness in general and for treating ASD in particular, J. Pfeifer led a 2013-published study determining brain functioning during self-appraisal and the efficacy of that appraisal. Researchers examined 18 ASD male youths aged 17 years vs. 18 male youths aged 17 with no diagnosed neurological disorders (Pfeifer, Merchant, Colich, & Hernandez, 2013, p. 274). The team trained all subjects and their parents, who were from the Los Angeles area, to complete the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) questionnaire. Researchers found that several areas of the brain are involved in self-assessment and that those brain areas perform abnormally in ASD subjects when they are performing self-assessments (Pfeifer, Merchant, Colich, & Hernandez, 2013, p. 278). Schandling et al. published a study in 2011 that examined the use of the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ) and the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) by teachers. Researchers studies assessments of 3,375 children in the United States (Schanding, Nowell, & Goin-Kochel, 2012, p. 1708). They found that using recommended cutoffs showed teacher assessments to be less sensitive and specific; however, lowering the cutoffs improves sensitivity and specificity and also shows that the SRS is a somewhat more efficient screener than the SCQ (Schanding, Nowell, & Goin-Kochel, 2012, p. 1710). J. Wood et al. published a study in 2014 that examined the effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on autism symptoms during school recess. The team focused on comparing the effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) vs. treatment-as-usual (TAU). Using 13 children diagnosed with ASD and aged 7-11 years, the team assigned some to CBT and others to TAU for 16 weeks (Wood, Fujii, Renno, & Van Dyke, 2014, pp. 2266-7). Trained observers unaware of which children were assigned to which treatment found that 68.6% of those receiving CBT had positive social interactions during recess vs. only 25% of those receiving TAU (Wood, Fujii, Renno, & Van Dyke, 2014, p. 2272). Clearly, the United States is also a world leader in studying the most effective methods of diagnosing and treating ASD.

Behavioral Psychologists also learn from examining the studies of others in meta-analyses. A team led by B. P. Ho reviewed 10 studies of 402 children aged approximately 10 years, diagnosed with ASD and low functioning (Ho, Stephenson, & Carter, 2014, p. 19). The selected studies particularly focused on possible teacher intervention in the school setting. Upon review of the methodologies and conclusions, Ho's team concluded that there is substantial disparity in the intervention methods, time spent in intervention, the total hours spent training teachers for intervention, reporting methods, study methods and timing of interventions (Ho, Stephenson, & Carter, 2014, p. 20). B. Reichow et al. performed a meta-analysis of 5 meta-analyses performed in 2009 and 2010, all dealing with early childhood intervention. The team found such diversity in methods that the estimates of effectiveness of Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) also widely differed, though 4/5 of the meta-analyses concluded that EIBI is highly effective for treating ASD (Reichow, 2012, pp. 513-514). The M. Roth et al. meta-analysis, published in 2013 and studying interventions for adolescents and adults with diagnosed ASD used a relatively new standard to measure the efficacy of 43 reported cases of intervention (Roth, Gillis, & Digennaro Reed, 2014, p. 262). The Roth team found that despite 81% optimism of intervention effectiveness in addressing academics, adaptations, problematic behaviors, phobias, social skills and vocational skills, the lack of uniformity seriously harms the usefulness of their conclusions. Researchers found that 3/4 of the cases lacked treatment integrity, leaving large cracks in the interaction between research and treatment (Roth, Gillis, & Digennaro Reed, 2014, p. 280). Meta-analyses such as these allow Behavioral Psychologists to scan an entire area of ASD interest, assess the current methodology and suggest needed improvements.

4. Limitation of These Studies

The uncoordinated, sometimes haphazard approach to studying, diagnosing and treating ASD is obvious in the many shortcomings of current ASD studies. Limitations of the UK study of 6,000 twins by Hallett et al. is the lack of study of children with diagnosed ASD and internalized disorders to determine the best scheduling and aim of intervention (Hallett, Ronald, Rijsdijk, & Happe, 2010, p. 821). The Ho-led meta-analysis has several limitations. It's reliance on varied methods and data, as well as the examined studies' reliance on feedback from ASD children and their parents to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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