Early diagnosis and treatment helps young children with autism develop to their full potential. The primary goal of treatment is to improve the overall ability of the child to function.
Symptoms and behaviors of autism can combine in many ways and vary in severity. Also, individual symptoms and behaviors often change over time. For these reasons, treatment strategies are tailored to individual needs and available family resources. But in general children with autism respond best to highly structured and specialized treatment. A program that addresses helping parents and improving communication, social, behavioral, adaptive, and learning aspects of a child's life will be most successful.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following strategies for helping a child to improve overall function and reach his or her potential:6
- Behavioral training and management. Behavioral training and management uses positive reinforcement, self-help, and social skills training to improve behavior and communication. Many types of treatments have been developed, including Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), and sensory integration.
- Specialized therapies. These include speech, occupational, and physical therapy. These therapies are important components of managing autism and should all be included in various aspects of the child's treatment program. Speech therapy can help a child with autism improve language and social skills to communicate more effectively. Occupational and physical therapy can help improve any deficiencies in coordination and motor skills. Occupational therapy may also help a child with autism to learn to process information from the senses (sight, sound, hearing, touch, and smell) in more manageable ways.
- Medicines. Medicines are most commonly used to treat related conditions and problem behaviors, including depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
- Community support and parent training. Talk to your doctor or contact an advocacy group for support and training.
Stories about alternative therapies, such as secretin and auditory integration training, have circulated in the media and other information sources. When you are thinking about any type of treatment, find out about the source of the information and about whether the studies are scientifically sound. Accounts of individual success are not sufficient evidence to support using a treatment. Look for large, controlled studies to validate claims.
Experts have not yet identified a way to prevent autism. Public concern over stories linking autism and childhood vaccines has persisted. But numerous studies have failed to show any evidence of a link between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.7If you avoid having your children immunized, you put them and others in your community at risk for developing serious diseases, which can cause serious harm or even death.