Autism Treatment This Emotional Life on PBS

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Autism

		

Treatment

Every person is unique, and this applies to people on the spectrum.

No two people with autism develop and express themselves in exactly the same way. What works for one person might not work for another. What doesn’t work now might work better later.

The goal of autism treatment is to help children and adults learn to communicate and interact socially with others, to develop cognitive skills, and to function as independently as they can. Although development might be seen from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, a person on the spectrum will always experience the world from his or her unique perspective. Some adults with an ASD, especially those with Asperger’s syndrome, are able to live independent adult lives. Other adults will need special care.

Some autism treatments have been empirically tested, others have not. Alternative treatments may include dietary changes and alternative medicine. It is important to work with a professional to help develop the best treatment and therapy plan for your child.

Applied behavioral
analysis

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) has become widely accepted as a customizable, effective autism treatment. ABA is designed to change behavior and develop skills by reinforcing desired behaviors and reducing unwanted behaviors. These approaches take place in the child’s natural environments of home and school, and an ABA practitioner can help parents, teachers, and caregivers apply this approach in their day-to-day interactions with a child.

An ABA practitioner will help break down skills into small steps and provide many opportunities to learn and practice the skills, with praise and reinforcement for every small success. ABA is customized to the needs and developmental level of the child, and adjusted based on what works.

There are a wide range of ABA approaches, from highly structured to more naturalistic and play-based approaches. You will want to choose the approach that works best for your family and child.

Education

Education

Educational opportunities are as important for children with autism as for other children. Trained special education teachers, counselors, and therapists can work with a child to teach and reinforce social skills and language.

The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal mandate that eligible children with disabilities will receive free public educational programs and services. Autism is a disability category under IDEA.

Federal law also requires that any child with a recognized disability have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) created by teachers and the family based on each child’s specific needs.

Other
treatments

Other autism treatments

A healthcare professional can help you create a comprehensive plan for your child.

A child with an ASD may require doctor-prescribed medication to help with some symptoms such as seizures and aggression. Speech and language therapy focusing on improving language skills may also be appropriate. And in some cases, physical therapy can help improve motor skills, posture, and balance.

As a child grows older, occupational therapy can help assess his or her needs, explore interests, and improve skills that will help the person become more independent. Occupational therapy focuses on giving people the skills they need to have an occupation and live as independently as possible.

Many children with an ASD have medical issues that need attention, such as problems sleeping, stomach problems, allergies, and metabolic problems, among others. These often go undetected because the child has difficulty communicating, and unusual behaviors that may be related to pain are chalked up to “just part of autism.” When these medical issues are treated, children with ASD are better able to learn and have fewer challenging behaviors.

Selecting
a program

How do I know if a program is right for my child?

The National Institute of Mental Health has an extensive list of treatment options at their Web site. It also provides the following list of questions to help parents evaluate programs.

Questions to ask when you are evaluating a program for your child:

  • How successful has the program been for other children?
  • How many children have gone on to placement in a regular school and how have they performed?
  • Do staff members have training and experience working with children and adolescents with autism?
  • How are activities planned and organized?
  • Are there predictable daily schedules and routines?
  • How much individual attention will my child receive?
  • How is progress measured? Will my child’s behavior be closely observed and recorded?
  • Will my child be given tasks and rewards that are personally motivating?
  • Is the environment designed to minimize distraction?
  • Will the program prepare me to continue therapy at home?
  • What is the cost, time commitment, and location of the program?

 

Find Help

Locate mental health and well-being support organizations in your area.