There is no standard treatment for autism. Unlike many other conditions, the causes of autism are poorly understood. What's more, each person with autism displays a different set different physical, emotional, behavioral and social issues. To make the situation even tougher, upuntil less than 20 years ago, autism was a rare disorder and received relatively little attention from the medical community.
There is no standard, universally accepted treatment of autism; in fact, every single method has its detractors. General approaches may be summarized as follows:
- Biochemical (food allergies, medication, food and vitamin supplements)
- Neurosensory (sensorial integration, over stimulation and patterning
- auditory training, facilitated communication, daily life therapy)
- Psycho-dynamic (holding therapy, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, option institute(which also falls in behavioral)
- Behavioral (Discrete trials (Lovaas and others), behavior modification with and without aversives, TEACCH)
Behavioral approaches are backed by scientific studies as well as anecdotal evidence. The best known, because of the amount of related scientific literature, are Lovaas' version of discrete trial and the North Carolina TEACCH programs. Both are very structured programs with a lot of positive reinforcement, two factors which seem to important.
Clearly, it is important to have centers of expertise for PDD, autism, and related disorders in order to help families and school boards in experimenting and choosing the right therapy for each child.
Appropriate early intervention is important. Once the diagnosis has been made, the parents, physicians, and specialists should discuss what is best for the child. In most cases, parents are encouraged to take care of the child at home.
Special education classes are available for autistic children. Structured, behaviorally-based programs, geared to the patient's developmental level have shown some promise.
Most behavioral treatment programs include:
- clear instructions to the child
- prompting to perform specific behaviors
- immediate praise and rewards for performing those behaviors
- a gradual increase in the complexity of reinforced behaviors
- definite distinctions of when and when not to perform the learned behaviors
- Parents should be educated in behavioral techniques so they can participate in all aspects of the child's care and treatment. The more specialized instruction and behavior therapy the child receives, the more likely it is that the condition will improve.
Medication can be recommended to treat specific symptoms such as seizures, hyperactivity, extreme mood changes, or self-injurious behaviors.
The autistic child requires much of the parents' attention, often affecting the other children in the family. Counseling and support may be helpful for the parents.
The outlook for each child depends on his or her intelligence and language ability. Some people with autism become independent adults. A majority can be taught to live in community-based homes, although they may require supervision throughout adulthood.