At this time, there is no cure for ASD. An early, intensive, appropriate treatment program will greatly improve the outlook for most young children with ASD. Most programs build on the interests of the child in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities.
The best treatment plan may use a combination of techniques, including:
- Applied behavior analysis (ABA)
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy
- Speech-language therapy
APPLIED BEHAVIORAL ANALYSIS (ABA)
This program is for younger children. It can be effective in some cases. ABA uses one-on-one teaching that reinforces the practice of various skills. The goal is to get the child close to normal developmental functioning.
ABA programs are usually done in a child's home under the supervision of a behavioral psychologist. These programs can be very expensive and have not been widely adopted by school systems. Parents often must seek funding and staffing from other sources, which can be hard to find in many communities.
Another program is called the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH). TEACCH was developed as a statewide program in North Carolina. It uses picture schedules and other visual cues that help the child work independently and organize and structure their environments.
Though TEACCH tries to improve a child's adaptation and skills, it also accepts the problems associated with ASD. Unlike ABA programs, TEACCH programs do not expect children to achieve typical development with treatment.
There is no medicine that treats ASD itself. But medicines are often used to treat behavior or emotional problems that people with ASD may have, including:
- Attention problems
- Extreme compulsions that the child cannot stop
- Mood swings
- Sleep difficulty
Currently, only risperidone is approved to treat children ages 5 through 16 for the irritability and aggression that can occur with ASD. Other medicines that may also be used include mood stabilizers and stimulants.
Some children with ASD appear to respond to a gluten-free or casein-free diet. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. Casein is found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Not all experts agree that dietary changes will make a difference, and not all studies of this method have shown positive results.
If you are considering these or other dietary changes, talk to both a doctor who specializes in the digestive system (gastroenterologist) and a registered dietitian. You want to be sure that the child is still receiving enough calories, nutrients, and a balanced diet.
Beware that there are widely publicized treatments for ASD that do not have scientific support, and reports of miracle cures that do not live up to expectations. If your child has ASD, it may be helpful to talk with other parents of children with ASD and ASD specialists. Follow the progress of research in this area, which is rapidly developing.