Non-pharmacological interventions for autism spectrum disorder in children: an overview of systematic reviews

Non-pharmacological interventions for autism spectrum disorder in children: an overview of systematic reviews

Meza, N. Rojas, V. Escobar Liquitay, C. M. Perez, I. Aguilera Johnson, F. Amarales Osorio, C. Irarrazaval, M. Madrid, E. Franco, J. V. A.
BMJ Evidence based Medicine
OBJECTIVE: To assess the effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. DESIGN: Overview of systematic reviews (SRs). PARTICIPANTS: Children aged 12 years and under with ASD. SEARCH METHODS: In October 2021, we searched Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO and Epistemonikos placing no restrictions on language or date of publication. INTERVENTIONS: 17 non-pharmacological interventions compared with placebo, no-treatment (including waiting list) or other interventions (ie, usual care, as defined by the authors of each study). DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We rated the methodological quality of the included SRs using A Measurement Tool to Assess Systematic Reviews (AMSTAR 2). We reported the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) certainty of the evidence (CoE) according to the analysis conducted by the authors of the included SRs. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: A multidisciplinary group of experts agreed on analysing nine critical outcomes evolving core and non-core ASD symptoms. PUBLIC AND PATIENT INVOLVEMENT STATEMENT: Organisations of parents of children with ASD participated in external revision of the final version of the report. RESULTS: We identified 52 reports that were within our scope, of which 48 were excluded for various reasons. After excluding less reliable SRs, we included four SRs. Non-pharmacological interventions (ie, Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention, Applied Behaviour Analysis, Picture Exchange Communication System and Naturalistic Developmental Behavioural Interventions) may have favourable effects on some core outcomes including language, social and functioning, play or daily living skills in children with ASD (with either no GRADE assessment, very low or low CoE). In addition, we identified a lack of report for other key outcomes in the included SRs (ie, restricted, repetitive behaviour; play and sensory processing). CONCLUSIONS: Synthesised evidence regarding the efficacy of non-pharmacological interventions for children with ASD is scarce. High-quality SRs addressing the variety of both non-pharmacological interventions and relevant outcomes are needed. Prospero registration number: Crd42020206535.

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Type of intervention

Treatment and Child Welfare Interventions


Mental Health Problems and Disorders

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Age group

Preschool Aged Children (3-5 years)

School Aged Children (6-12 years)


Overviews of Reviews

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