What is Treatment for Autism?

What is Treatment for Autism?

The autism spectrum is just that -- a diverse spectrum with many different variables -- a fact that makes treatment for autism wide ranging.  Most commonly, treatment for autism involves both behavioral and medicinal interventions.  Addressing the symptoms of autism as well as those conditions often comorbid with autism can provide well-rounded treatment for autism. 

Treatment is often based around the developmental stage of children with autism.  Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers can benefit from early intervention strategies, while children with autism in school might need to target social skills training.  Teenagers gain skills from transition training, or preparing for adult life. 

Early Intervention

Early intervention treatment for autism often involves Applied Behavioral Analysis, or ABA therapy.  In ABA therapy, children with autism learn skills in areas such as social skills, communication, play and leisure, self-care, motor skills, and cognitive development.  ABA therapists use appropriate prompts to encourage a child to succeed, and they break down concepts into simpler components; when things are in smaller, more manageable steps, children are much more easily able to learn and apply skills to everyday life.  Reinforcement is also a key part of early intervention, as it helps increase the likelihood that children with autism will repeat appropriate and desired behavior. 

In early intervention treatment for autism, children receive structured, therapeutic activities for at least 25 hours per week.  Therapists keep track of goals and desired learning objectives, and they monitor progress and set new goals as current goals are obtained.  Treatment for autism also involves parents, so the treatment procedures can be applied throughout the day.  Early intervention might also involve speech, physical, occupational, and recreational therapists.

School-Age Children and Transitions

Depending on the severity of autism and a family’s preferences, children with autism might be placed in a mainstream classroom (with neurotypically developing peers) or in special education.  While in school, children with autism will be involved with an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP, which outlines treatment goals and what therapy services are to be offered. 

While in school, children with autism will likely continue to receive ABA therapy, as well as physical, speech, occupational, and recreational treatment.  Some children improve so greatly through this treatment for autism that they “outgrow” their autism symptoms such that they no longer meet the criteria for diagnosis.  Current research does not point to a particular percentage of children with autism who will improve this much with their symptoms, but research does point to early intervention as the best tool for improving overall function. 

Other common therapy techniques for autism include sensory integration therapy (as many children with autism have sensory issues), modified diets (gluten-free and casein-free often helps with behavior problems), social story therapy, visual schedules, and cognitive behavioral therapy.  Keeping a routine and remembering appropriate feedback and rewards helps create good habits and increase the probability of wanted behaviors. 

As children with autism develop, treatment might need to be reevaluated to match children’s progress and create new goals.  Children with autism do receive therapy through their IEP while in school, but after they leave school, many of these treatments stop.  Working on transitions to adulthood are important skills to learn.  Transition therapy includes more social skills training and teaching children with autism how to interact socially and in an appropriate manner.  Working on independent living skills is an integral part of transition treatment for autism, and many people with autism can work, have relationships, and enjoy adult life.

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Written by: Candice Evans See other articles by Candice Evans
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