Family Health Guide

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Autism Spectrum Disorders: Treatment

Currently, there’s no cure for autism spectrum disorders but with early diagnosis and intervention, children with ASDs can make considerable developmental, social, and behavioral progress. Indeed, with the proper treatments, “some children may improve so much that they no longer meet the criteria for ASD, although milder symptoms may often persist,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

While there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for all children with ASDs, the primary approach involves behavioral therapy to teach specific skills or teach a child to abandon certain undesirable behaviors. One of the most common and successful treatments for children with ASDs is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which helps to reinforce desirable behaviors and reduce undesirable ones. With ABA, instructional exercises, broken down into their simplest parts, are used to help kids develop new skills for looking, listening, conversing, imitating, and appreciating the perspective of other people. With “floortime,” a therapy that focuses on the child’s emotional development, parents engage the child at whatever level he currently enjoys, entering the child’s activities and following the child’s lead.

In addition, speech-language therapists can help children with ASDs improve their ability to communicate and interact appropriately with others, and occupational therapists can help children learn to perform physical tasks more effectively and improve their responses to sensory stimuli. Meanwhile, physical therapists can design activities to enhance motor control and improve posture and balance in children with ASDs.

Once a child reaches school age, public schools are required to provide free, appropriate education through high school or age 21, whichever comes first. Typically, a team of parents, teachers, caregivers, school psychologists and other child development specialists work together to design an Individualized Education Program (IEP) to help tailor a child’s school experience. This may involve special education services, having a “shadow” to help manage behavior and social interactions in a mainstream classroom, or receive special services (such as social-skills training) during the day. The approach should be adapted to the individual child’s needs.