Fact Sheet - Questions to ask when choosing interventions

Young boy looking confused and questioning

Questions to ask when choosing interventions - extended version

There are many different interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum. Parents need to think about the benefits and drawbacks of programs when thinking about using them with their child/ren. This fact sheet contains questions you can ask service providers about the programs they offer. The answers to these questions will help you decide if it is the right program for your child.

Who is the intervention for?

  • Is it better for children on the spectrum who have high or low cognitive ability?
  • Is it better for children with good communication skills?
  • Does it work better with younger or older children?
  • Are there any family factors that seem to be related to outcome?
  • Which children are less suited to this intervention?
  • Should some children on the spectrum not do this intervention?

What does the intervention look like?

  • What are the specific aims of the program?
  • What assessments are done with children before the intervention?
  • How will you know if it is working?
  • Are there any medical or physical risks?

What is the evidence base for this intervention?

  • What does research say about this intervention?
  • Is it high level research (like a good study published in a journal) or do the people involved in the program rely on testimonials?
  • What is the evidence that shows that children who have this intervention do better than children who do a different intervention (or no intervention)?
  • Has the program been reported directly to the media without being presented in refereed journals?
  • Do the people selling or marketing the program have a financial stake in the success?

What are the costs?

  • How much does it cost?
  • How much time will be involved?
  • Will doing this program put pressure on other members of the family?
  • Will other family members miss out on what they need if this intervention is used?

What is known about the program?

  • Have other families of childrenon the spectrum used this intervention?
  • What are the long-term effects of this intervention?
  • What difference is it likely to make to the child as he or she reaches adolescence or adulthood?
  • If done at school, how will the intervention impact on members of the class, and the school?
  • Can the program only be conducted by specially trained people (or can parents, teachers and others learn to do some of it?)

Finally, it may be helpful for parents to keep the following quote in mind:

‘If questions cannot be answered satisfactorily, if there are no individual assessments before treatment begins and no formal outcome measures when it is ended, if the results are claimed to be universally successful, for any child or any level of disability, then it is important to be aware, that money may be wasted, … and much disappointment … the result’ (Howlin, 1997, p. 68).

References and further information

Stephenson, J. (2004). A teacher’s guide to controversial practices. Special Education Perspectives, 13 (1), 66-74. Howlin, P. (1997). Prognosis in autism: Do specialist treatments affect long-term outcomes? European Child& Adolescent Psychiatry, 6, 55–72.

Autism Tasmania Inc. (2008). Autism Tasmania’s views on autism intervention methodologies for children. Retrieved August 5, 2008, from: www.autismtas.org.au/early-intervention.html. Link no longer available

Autism Spectrum Australia. (n.d.). Research basis for intervention options. NSW: Building Blocks Early Intervention Service.

Autism Spectrum Australia. (n.d.). Choosing interventions and therapy approaches. NSW: Building Blocks Early Intervention Service.


(Reviewed in November 2016)