Autism Center

Autism Treatment

Autism treatment
While there is no cure for autism, treatment options are available.  The earlier a child is treated, especially before the age of 3, the more effectively treatments ease symptoms.  Treatment options may be administered in a clinic, at home or at school.  Individualized education plans (IEP) may be designed at public schools by a team (teachers, parents, child development specialists, including psychologists, etc.). 

All autism treatment options aim to improve the three main areas of autistic symptoms:  repetitive, social, and language.  A large range of treatments for autism exist because the symptoms for one child may be different from those of another child and require different treatment methods.  Some treatments may be provided in an educational setting, not just therapy-only sessions with an autistic professional.  Other treatment options include gluten-free diets; medication; occupational therapy; physical therapy; and speech-language therapy.

Alternative medicine
It's important to note that in addition to these treatments, parents of autistic children may seek out alternative treatments, of which many, many exist.  Examples include treatment options that remove mercury from the body; casein-free diets; vitamin and mineral supplements, particularly of Vitamin B and magnesium; anti-fungal drugs or yeast-free diets; and more.  There is no scientific consensus currently, whether or not these alternative treatments are effective; some may lead to further complications (such as toxicity resulting from too many vitamins).  Because of the significant number of alternative therapies for autism, parents should consult with their doctor before an alternative treatment option is taken. 

After consulting with a nutritionist, pediatrician, and/or gastroenterologist, a gluten-free diet may be recommended for children diagnosed with autism.  Gluten-free diets are considered an alternative therapy meaning that no conclusive, scientific evidence exists to prove this as effective treatment option.  However, many parents provide anecdotal accounts of its effectiveness. Gluten, a protein composite found in wheat, rye, oat, and other products, is found in higher than normal levels in the urine of autistic children.  One possibility is that gluten is not broken down as well in autistic children, and that, as a result, normal brain functions may be interrupted due to a biochemical imbalance.  A gluten free diet can be introduced gradually (not suddenly) so as to reduce the strain on the body.  As a result, always consult with your doctor before trying any alternative therapy.

Although there are no medications that treat autism itself, medications are sometimes used to treat symptoms of other disorders or issues.  The main classes of medications used for autistic children include:

  • anti-convulsant medications
  • anti-hyperactivity medications
  • anti-psychotic medications
  • SSRIs (to treat anxiety, depression or OCD)

Children who suffer from anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be prescribed an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).  Other children may take anti-psychotic medications used to treat schizophrenic disorders.  This is because some autistic behaviors-particularly aggression, hyperactivity, and withdrawal-may be decreased with these anti-psychotic medications.  Other medications include those originally used to treat hyperactivity, such as adderall, dexedrine, and ritalin.  And, anti-convulsant drugs may be used to treat seizures.  Again, because every child's symptoms may be different or vary in severity, it is important to carefully consider what medication may be most appropriate for your particular child's symptoms. 

Occupational therapy
Occupational therapy identifies specific skills, usually using fine motor skills, that need development.  Therapy might be started in order to help a child learn a new skill, or to become more proficient in a present skill.  Still, other children may begin therapy simply to maintain a current skill set.  Examples of common skills targeted during occupational therapy include:

  • brushing teeth
  • eating
  • getting dressed
  • toilet training
  • writing

However, there may also be a focus on various skills necessary to live a happy and sustaining life, such as socializing and playing. 

Physical therapy
Physical therapy for autism focuses on providing greater strength and coordination with the body's gross motor movements, such as riding a bicycle, running, or reaching for an object.  Both exercise and massage may be utilized as therapy techniques. 

School intervention
Every public school is required to provide special education for children who meet disability requirements.  In other words, your public school must develop a plan that is individually tailored to your child to best promote their learning.  This plan sets forth various requirements for how a particular child is to be educated, as agreed upon by all members of the team.  It is well worth looking into school intervention options so that your community and teachers can provide maximum support for their child not just at home, but also at school. 

Speech language therapy
Children needing speech-language therapy may exhibit many symptoms such as difficult with word pronunciation; repeating words or memorizing large bodies of written text; speaking in a robotic or song-like voice; or having difficulty interpreting the language of others whether spoken or non-spoken in social situations.  As a result, speech-language therapy techniques adapt to the specific symptoms of a particular child.  Some children may be able to use spoken language as a means of communications.  Others, however, may have to learn how to communicate by using an alternative, such as typing, signing, or using a board with pictures and words on it. 

Support groups
Treatment options wouldn't be complete without mentioning that some form of support is important not just for the autistic child, but also for the families themselves.  Stress can run high in families with autistic children, so seeking support through other families with autistic children may be helpful.  Or, simply allowing more personal time between spouses may be necessary.  Because of the possibly high amount of care involved for autistic children, it's very important to plan stress management techniques. 

Although autism is not curable, it is treatable.  There are a variety of options available, but careful selection is needed, as there are a variety of symptoms that differ depending on the child.  By becoming knowledgeable about this disorder, and the symptoms affecting your child, then you can take proactive steps that include not just treatment options, but understanding what's available through your school system.  Rather than being a frustrating disorder that you feel is overwhelming, you may become empowered to actually manage the symptoms for your child as effectively as possible.       

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