Home > Science > IMFAR: Updates on promising treatment approaches for individuals with ASD

IMFAR: Updates on promising treatment approaches for individuals with ASD

Nancy Jones, Ph.D., Director of the Autism Treatment Network and Clinical Trials Network

In one of the final sessions at IMFAR, several presentations provided updates in three important areas of intervention and treatment research.

Using technology to make interventions more accessible

Laurie Vismara, Ph.D. from UC Davis, MIND Institute reported on a new approach to make training for families on the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) more accessible. Typically, families and clinicians attend training and coaching sessions in person at the clinic. Using web and DVD technology, Dr. Vismara and her colleagues have developed a program where families use web-based video conferencing for training sessions with a therapist. Families also had access to an interactive DVD including modules covered in training sessions that provide summaries of the key sessions, video examples, supportive videos, and feedback exercises.  The study examined how this new web-based approach compared to in-person sessions. In a small pilot group of ten families, the researchers found that parents’ ability to implement the activities from the intervention was comparable to that found in families trained in-person. Improvement in the children’s word production and imitation skills were also comparable to children whose families had in-person ESDM sessions. A manual of this web-based approach is currently being developed. This approach holds promise to make interventions accessible to more families and to ensure children get timely intervention of the appropriate intensity.

Effectiveness of melatonin for sleep disorders in ASD  

Many families and individuals with ASD report sleep problems. To alleviate these sleep problems, some individuals use melatonin, a hormone that is readily available and sold over-the-counter as a supplement. But despite melatonin’s easy accessibility and wide-spread use, there are not a large number of systematic studies of its use for sleep disorders in ASD.

Beth Malow, M.D., a neurologist and sleep specialist, and her team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUCM), reported results from a pilot open-label study of melatonin for improving sleep onset. Many children suffer from sleep onset insomnia, which is a delay in their ability to fall asleep. The study examined the effectiveness of using melatonin to help children (ages 3-10) who have difficulty falling asleep (more than 30 minutes delay on more than three days a week). In addition to the melatonin, all families also were provided with sleep education on how to improve sleep. Twenty-four of the twenty-five children in the study showed an improvement at moderate doses that were well tolerated, decreasing the time it took them to fall asleep on more than three days a week. This study was an open label study, which means that families were aware of the treatment they were receiving. This study provides initial evidence for the potential effectiveness and safety of the treatment and also preliminary information to guide development of a planned multi-site, randomized controlled trial of melatonin.

Arbaclofen shows potential to treat social and communication problems in ASD children with high irritability

In a previous clinical trial on individuals with Fragile X, arbaclofen was found to lessen children’s tendency to withdraw socially and improved social behavior. The study reported at IMFAR examined the effectiveness of arbaclofen in improving social and communication skills in children with ASD. The children were 6-17 years of age, had a diagnosis of autism or PDD-NOS and also had high levels of irritability. The study was an 8-week, open-label study. Craig Erikson, M.D., of Indiana University School of Medicine reported the findings of the multi-site trial. Key improvements were noted for irritability, social withdrawal and communication. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial is planned to begin early in 2011.

  1. Katie Wright
    May 23, 2011 at 11:24 am | #1

    Technology advances have indeed been terrific.
    Advances in biomedical interventions are hard to find at IMFAR.
    I am happy ATN was in attendance but I would be curious to know what was different from their
    2010 presentation.

    Melatonin is a harmless supplement one can buy anywhere. Try 1mg – 2mg at first and see if it helps your chid fall asleep.
    I give my 9 yr old 4mg 30 minutes before bed. Buy the Time Release Formula! That way your child will stay asleep.

    You will find much more comprehensive treatment information at the following conferences:
    Autism Research Institute
    National Autism Association
    Autism One

    These are all wonderful conferences offered all over the country. They feature the very best ASD clinicians and the most up to date useful information. Sadly, you are not going to find that at IMFAR.

  2. September 9, 2011 at 2:34 pm | #2

    I’ve tried melatonin supplements before – but really couldn’t tell much difference. I’ve had onset insomnia for a long time. (Once I fall asleep I’m fine.) One thing that has worked well for me – if you can stand it – is a 10-15 minute ice-cold shower or bath about 30 minutes before bedtime.

    - Kevin

  1. May 19, 2011 at 9:46 pm | #1
  2. May 20, 2011 at 12:31 am | #2
  3. May 20, 2011 at 12:31 am | #3

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