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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Tips for Parenting a Child With Autism

5. Learn More About Behavioral Training continued...

Consistent use of these behavioral interventions produces the best results for the child with autism. The child's functional abilities, behavior, and daily environment should be thoroughly assessed before behavioral training and management begins. Parents, other family members, teachers, and caregivers of the autistic child should all be trained in these techniques.

An intensive approach using behavior therapy, often called applied behavior analysis (ABA), is uniformly recommended by experts, including a recommendation by the U.S. surgeon general. The prototype program is called classic ABA and involves intensive, one-on-one work for 30 to 40 hours a week. More commonly now, therapists use a “modified" ABA that calls for ten to 12 hours per week of intensive work, allowing for time in school, other therapies, and social interactions with family members and peers.

The goal of behavior therapy programs is to reinforce desirable behaviors and decrease undesirable ones. As an example, the child with autism is taught to perform tasks in a series of simple steps and is given a predictable schedule. The behavioral therapy is then continued at home.

Often, both behavioral therapy and occupational therapy are given at the same time. The downside is that this type of therapy is expensive and often not covered by health insurance plans.

For more information, you can find a review of all the educational programs that work in the book Educating Children With Autism. Written by the National Research Council, the book is available through the National Academies Press at http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10017.html.

6. Assess Your Child's Need for Medication

While there is no medication for autism, there are drugs for specific symptoms that kids with autism might display. For example, short attention spans can sometimes be improved with stimulant drugs that are used to treat ADD or ADHD. Children with autism who have anxiety, depression, or OCD behaviors can often be treated with antidepressants.

Drugs have a limited role in improving symptoms of autism. However, some may help prevent self-injury and other behaviors that are causing difficulty. Medicines may also take a child with autism to a functional level at which they can benefit from other treatments.

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