Are Children Severely Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder Underrepresented in Treatment Studies? An Analysis of the Literature

Despite reports have noted that children severely affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) appear to have been understudied. Rigorous analysis of this observation has been limited, and the representation of severity has not been well-described. We assessed three domains of severity (communication ability, cognitive functioning, and adaptive functioning) in 367 treatment studies of children with ASD published 1991-2013. We found that the proportion of studies that included the severely affected population decreased significantly over time, as well as wide variability in measurement and reporting. Inadequate representation of the full autism spectrum in the literature could lead to an unbalanced picture of ASD and leave behind those with arguably the greatest need.