Autism Treatment

Autism treatment includes therapy to help the child learn social and communication skills and reduce problem behaviors. Other treatments may be added.

Autism cannot be cured. However, it can often be managed. Treatment generally focuses on reducing the symptoms (particularly any problematic behaviors) and creating an environment that supports the child’s continued learning and development.

Because the symptoms of autism can vary widely among those on the autistic spectrum, different types of treatment will be needed for different patients. Some of the treatment options include:

• Behavioral therapy, which may focus on reducing problem behaviors and supporting positive alternatives
• Social skills therapy, which helps the child to learn communication and social skills
• Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and/or speech therapy, to improve the child’s functional abilities
• Educational therapy, in which the educational environment is designed to support the autistic child’s learning as well as possible
• Medications, which can help with anxiety or severe behavioral problems

Programs for autism treatment often include multiple therapists working with the child, performing behavioral therapy, social skills therapy, and other types of therapy (such as physical therapy). Educational therapy involves working with the child’s school to design a learning environment that supports the child’s learning; for example, children with autism may need extra structure. In public school systems, children with a diagnosis of autism are generally guaranteed reasonable accommodation by the school, and your child’s therapists will work with the school to help them design a program that meets your child’s needs. Sometimes, there is also family therapy, which teaches family members to interact with the child in ways that are beneficial to the child.

The exact types of therapy needed depend on the child. For some children, the primary goal of therapy is to teach them social skills, which may later allow them to function in independent life. For others, the main goal is to reduce problem behaviors. The types of therapy that are used will depend on the goals.

Because autism is so poorly understood and cannot be cured, parents often turn to complementary and alternative medicine for their children with autism, such as acupuncture, special diets, sensory-processing therapy, or chelation therapy. Most of these therapies have little or no real evidence supporting their usefulness (although there may be plenty of anecdotal evidence), although some may be useful for some children. They may be expensive, and some may be dangerous, especially those that involve supplements. If you choose to investigate these therapies, use caution as you proceed. While most alternative practitioners have good intentions, there are some who take advantage of the difficulties faced by parents of autistic children.

There are no medications that directly treat the main symptoms of autism, such as social and communication difficulties. However, in some cases, certain medications are used to manage certain problems for children with autism. Antidepressants may be useful for those with anxiety, which may help them cope with the stress of their environment. For those with severe behavioral problems, antipsychotic drugs may be prescribed. These medications may have severe side effects, so they are only used if the problem is severe.

Some children with autism may go on to lead normal or near-normal lives, while others will never be able to live independently.

References

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Autism spectrum disorder: Treatments and drugs.” Mayo Clinic website (2014). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/basics/treatment/con-20021148

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Treatment.” CDC website (2015). http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

National Institutes of Health. “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” MedlinePlus (2015). http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/autismspectrumdisorder.html

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