Therapies for Autism

Parents who receive a medical diagnosis of autism should be encouraged to also seek an educational determination to see whether the child qualifies for special education and related services under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

From the Mayo Clinic website, “The goal of treatment is to maximize your child’s ability to function by reducing autism spectrum disorder symptoms and supporting development and learning. Early intervention during the preschool years can help your child learn critical social, communication, functional and behavioral skills.”

The most beneficial and successful interventions are evidence-based and tailored for an individual child rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

A range of accepted therapies – from behavioral to communication to occupational and physical therapies – are commonly used. Many people living with ASD also benefit from medications that will help curtail symptoms, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, depression and anxiety.

Specific intervention therapies run the gamut, including behavior, speech, art, music, exercise, and highly structured educational programs.

New assistive technology has also brought a wide-range of ASD products to market, such as interactive learning platforms, games, devices, and apps. Even robots and virtual reality are being tested to see how it can enhance the lives of people living with autism. From the National Institutes of Health website, “Robots show predictable behavior, produce controlled social situations and interact with persons in a simple manner. This makes people with ASD feel less anxious by making social situations less complex.”

The goal of many new technologies is to encourage creativity, imagination and problem-solving abilities.

A third of families with ASD children have also experimented with complementary or alternative therapies. For instance, equine or other animal therapy can help strengthen bonds and relationships along with other skills, and a moving article on doll therapy shows a similar impact.

Some treatments have shown remarkable success with some children, while others have had no effect, or have been proven to be detrimental. A handful of these outmoded interventions included hugging or holding therapy, massive vitamins and/or nutritional supplements, detoxification procedures, patterning, aversion therapy, chelation, and the use of hyperbaric chambers.

ASD researchers and clinicians advise parents to consult with a child’s doctor before venturing into uncharted territory.

An excellent resource of curated programs and interventions is available on the Autism Treatment Network created by the nonprofit organization, Autism Speaks. Information on complementary or alternative therapies is available on the NIH website.

When it comes to treatment, every child is individual, so what works for one may or may not work for another. ASD progress should also be looked at incrementally, comparing a child to his or her past self rather than to others.

Autism can be a lonely world, but thanks to science and a better understanding of the disorder, which is changing. Those living with ASD and their families can now tap into support groups, interactive websites, online forums and much more.


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