Systematic reviews of psychosocial interventions for autism: an umbrella review

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2009 Feb;51(2):95-104. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03211.x.


Aim: A wide range of psychosocial interventions for the treatment of individuals with autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs) have been evaluated in systematic reviews. We conducted an umbrella review of systematic reviews of the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for ASD.

Method: Comprehensive searches were conducted in 25 bibliographic databases, relevant journals and reference lists up to May 2007. Studies included were systematic reviews on any psychosocial intervention for individuals with ASDs. Two reviewers independently assessed study relevance and quality.

Results: Thirty systematic reviews were included. The majority of reviews evaluated interventions based on behavioural theory (n=9) or communication-focused (n=7) therapies. Positive intervention outcomes were reported in the majority of the reviews. Methodological quality of the reviews was generally poor.

Interpretation: The reviews reported positive outcomes for many of the interventions, suggesting that some form of treatment is favourable over no treatment. However, there is little evidence for the relative effectiveness of these treatment options. Many of the systematic reviews had methodological weaknesses that make them vulnerable to bias. There is a need for further systematic reviews that adhere to strict scientific methods and for primary studies that make direct comparisons between different treatment options.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Databases, Bibliographic*
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Social Behavior*
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic*