Whenever I present at autism conferences, I pose the two most important questions about programs (educational or therapeutic) dealing with the autism population:
1) What do you SAY you do?
2) What do you ACTUALLY do?
And it isn’t always that people/programs are lying or purposefully deceitful about the validity or efficacy of their programs or practices. I once observed a dedicated adapted PE coach taking a group of ASD high school students through a workout session on strength machines. It took more personal restraint than I thought I had (go me being professional) to not have a meltdown in front of her, the parents of the students, and the principle of the school. After the travesty that was the gym class, she told me that she used this routine because “someone had donated the machines.” I suppose if someone had donated a barrel of anthrax they would have been using that instead.
The coach meant well, but she was not equipped with the information necessary to develop a good fitness program.
Certainly this extends beyond fitness for the autism population and into all sorts of educational and purportedly therapeutic interventions and services for the population. So here are some important questions to consider (I like to write stuff down and make lists) when evaluating a new service or program:
1) what is the benefit?
2) How is that benefit measured/Can it be measured?
3) Is the primary benefit gained quickly or over time? If so, how long?
4) How much of an active role do you (parent, educator, therapist) have to play in the process?
5) Is the cost of the service worth the outcome?
6) What is the cost of comparable services?
7) Are promises vague or highly specific?
8) Who else has used the service/program/therapy? What was their situation and results?
9) Does the ideology and method of the program make sense? What is the basis for doing what they do?
Good logic does a fine job of weeding out junk science and false promises, but it is not always easy to remain objective. Ask others about their experiences and that the phrase “evidence-based” is important.