Most likely, your child has improved, because autistic children will learn and grow anyway, just as other children learn and grow, though on their own schedule. You might even credit the treatment you've chosen, and write a glowing testimonial to persuade other parents. This will give you the satisfaction of having found "the answer", and assuage the sinking feeling in the back of your mind that you've just been played for a sucker.In one sense, this idea is true. A child with autism, like every other child, will continue to grow and learn on their own, with or without help. The problem is that while these children will grow on their own, they are starting off at huge disadvantage when compared to their peers. Even if they naturally grow at the same pace as other children they are going to continue to be behind where they should be.
But the problem runs deeper than that. Children with autism don't grow and learn as fast as their peers.
As I wrote about a few days ago, children with autism show a slower rate of growth then their peers. When you combine this slower growth with the fact that children with autism start out at a disadvantage what you are left with is a child that can fall further and further behind their peers and will need extra help to narrow the gap.
Or in other words, it is unlikely that a child with autism will grow far enough, fast enough to catch up to where they need to be, even under ideal circumstances. Autism is, after all, a disorder of normal development.
You then have to ask yourself - do you want to help children with autism catch up or not?
I am not talking about the quirky behaviors of older people with autism or accepting the differences that autism causes or correcting the biological imbalances that children with autism show. All of that is important, but I am talking about the basic skills that every child needs to know. Skills such as listening, talking, dressing, counting, reading, and understanding directions - all of these basic skills (and many more) can be -and typically are - impaired in children with autism.
If you decide to help teach these children the skills that they need to learn (and you should) , you are going to needs a set of tools to use and plan for how to use them. Right now, some of the best tools that we have for teaching children with autism are speech therapy, OT, and behavioral analysis based treatments (ABA). Research has consistently shown that these tools are generally an effective way of of helping children acquire the skills that they lack and hopeful help them to catch up to their peers.
But how do we know that a specific treatment is responsible for the improvements rather than natural learning and growth? The simple answer is that you can't know - either way you slice it. If our children were perfect little lab experiments we could repeat the early years with or without the therapy and compare the results. But they aren't and so there are no do-overs - you have to make the best choice you can with the limited information that is available.
The good news is that this is the sort of question that evidence based medicine is equipped to answer. And while the question of what autism is or how it can be best treated is still up in the air, there is a large body of work that suggests that these therapies for autism are effective at teaching children with autism and improving their outcome.
But don't take my word for it. Perhaps you should go see what the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institute of Health, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Science Foundation have to say about it (just to name a few).
Be a good parent and don't listen to people like the one I quoted above. Give your child with autism the help they need to reach their potential, they are going to need all of the help they can get if they are to get past the debilitating effects of autism.