World Autism Views 2011: What does the world think about autism treatment?

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As with most questions in the field of autism the question of how to most effectively treat autism has not yet been clearly answered by science. No one treatment has been shown to be most effective and there is no consensus among researchers as the best methods to use. There is in fact a lot of disagreement on this issue and this was reflected in the data that came from the World Autism Views survey.

does the world think autism is even treatable?

We found that people don't even agree on the even more fundamental question of whether or not autism is treatable, never mind how to go about treating it. We pooled together six1 of the items on the survey that expressed the idea that autism is treatable to produce one score, we called this the "Autism is Treatable" score.

Of the 2004 people who answered all six of these items 34% believe autism is treatable, 59% think it's not (the rest said they didn't know enough to answer).

The data show differences across regions in people's belief in the idea that autism is treatable. Asia showed the highest score, reflecting a greater tendency to believe that autism is treatable while Eastern Europe showed the lowest score.

North America is in the middle of the group. Statistical tests show that there is a significant difference between the scores of North America and Asia, with Asians being significantly more likely to agree that autism is treatable. There were also significant differences between North Americans Northern and Western European and Eastern European, with both European groups being less likely to believe that autism is treatable.

The chart shows the mean response scores for selected countries from various regions, remember that a postivie mean (above zero) shows that on average this group thought it true that "Autism is Treatable" while a negative score (below zero) shows that on average the group thought this to be false.
"With the right treatments and therapies children with autism can fully recover"
We also collected responses to the ultimate statement of how treatable autism is. Overall, responses to this statement were similar to those of the composite "Autism is Treatable" measure. 31% rated the statement "with the right treatments and therapies children with autism can fully recover" as "true" while 50% thought it to be "false". We looked a four different regions to get a sense of how this changed around the world. 49% of the Asians thought it true that "with the right treatments and therapies children with autism can fully recover", 31% of Northern American's, 23% of Northern and Western Europeans and 14% of Eastern Europeans agreed.

how does the world think autism should be treated?

We asked people to respond to four statements about treatments to see if people believed in the efficacy of either medical or therapeutic treatments, without specifying any particular programs.

We made a distinction between "medical" and "therapy" programs and asked people if they thought these two types of treatment could either "cure" or "reduce the symptoms of" autism. The results show a clear difference between the three different regions we focused on, North America, Asia and Eastern Europe.

It is clear that people all over the world are more likely to agree that any type of treatment can reduce the symptoms of autism but few believe autism can be cured. The regional difference however stand out. The proportion of people from Asia that believe that some form of treatment can cure autism is more than twice that of those in North America or Eastern Europe.

It also appears that people, from all regions, were more likely to put their trust in "therapy" as opposed to "medical treatments". The statements in the survey did not define "therapy" and this word could mean many different things. 94% of North Americans agree that some form of therapy can reduce the symptoms of autism while 73% of them agree that medical treatments can reduce the symptoms.

1The six items compiled into the "Autism is Treatable" score were: "Children with autism will grow into adults without autism", "A child with autism can grow to live independently, get married and have a job", "There are some medical treatments that can cure autism", "There are some therapies that can cure autism", and "With the right treatments and therapies, children with autism can fully recover". When take together the answers to these six items showed a strong tendency to agree with each other, that is, if a respondent agreed with one of these items, they were highly likely to agree with the others (Cronbach's alpha = 0.714)

Next: What does the world think causes autism?
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