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Psychoanalysis Helps Kids With Autism

Researchers Say Psychoanalysis Should Be Part of Treatment for Children With Autism

Is Autism Reversible? continued...

"Autism was considered a brain condition that can't be changed, and I think that is now dated and not right," says Martha Herbert, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

And this is just not the case anymore.

"I have seen enough kids do substantially better than when they came in, and I think we can no longer assume that autism is not reversible, but we don't know whether it is reversible for everyone or subgroups," she says. "The real gauntlet it throws down is that if some kids can get a lot better and you don't know which ones it will be, how do you justify limited care?"

Now if a definitive diagnosis is made, the child should be in intensive intervention at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year, according to the AAP.

"We used to have soccer moms and now we have therapy moms," Herbert tells WebMD. "Moms are running themselves into the ground and yet they are not really present, so they become part of the process and not part of solution."

Parents of children with autism need to relate to the child in whatever state they are in -- and this is where psychoanalysis may be helpful, she says.

Psychoanalysts can be sensitive to the inner world of the child. "It's a skill you can't package, but it's wonderful," Herbert says.

Many Approaches to Autism Treatment

"Very little is known about effective treatments for autism," says Andy Shih, PhD, vice president of scientific affairs at Autism Speaks, a New York City-based nonprofit group aimed at increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders and funding research into its causes, prevention, and treatments.

"The only approach that has evidence behind it is ABA," he tells WebMD. "In many cases, this approach has been helpful in allowing children to lead a healthy and more normal life."

There are things that parents are trying today that may lack solid evidence such as diet changes, he says. "One of the major challenges is that this population is so [diverse] that what works for one parent may not work for your children. There is a lot of confusion and lack of clarity about what works or doesn't work."

Shih doesn't discount any treatments including psychoanalysis. "All are possibilities, but what we really need is more research assessing how interventions work and what children they work for," he says. While he is not sure whether or not the disorder is reversible, "I think that it is certainly a possibility."

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