While there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and education approaches that may reduce some of the challenges associated with the condition. Intervention may help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills that allow for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies individuals with ASD, there is no single treatment that will be effective for all people on the spectrum. Individuals can learn to function within the confines of ASD and use the positive aspects of their condition to their benefit, but treatment must begin as early as possible and be tailored to the child’s unique strengths, weaknesses and needs.
Throughout the history of the ASA, parents and professionals have been confounded by conflicting messages regarding what are and what are not appropriate treatment approaches for children and adults on the autism spectrum.
The purpose of this section is to provide a general overview of a variety of available approaches, not specific treatment recommendations. Keep in mind that the word “treatment” is used in a very limited sense. While typically used for children under 3, the approaches described herein may be included in an educational program for older children as well.
It is important to match a child’s potential and specific needs with treatments or strategies that are likely to be effective in moving him/her closer to established goals and greatest potential. ASA does not want to give the impression that parents or professionals will select one item from a list of available treatments. A search for appropriate treatment must be paired with the knowledge that all treatment approaches are not equal; what works for one will not work for all, and other options do not have to be excluded. The basis for choosing any treatment plan should come from a thorough evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses observed in the child.
Keep in mind that the use of alternative autism treatments is rather controversial. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, ‘because ASD [autism spectrum disorder] is a chronic condition for which presently there is no medical cure, it has become the focus of several unconventional treatments. However, rigorously controlled randomized studies are still scarce and scientific evidence is lacking for alternative interventions.’
Instead, the AAP recommends early intervention, including ‘behavioral methods, early developmental education, communication, occupational and physical therapy, highly structured social play interventions, and extensive parent training.’
While I would not advise a parent against doing what they believe is best for their child, I would recommend that, when attempting any new treatment, you follow the following guidelines:
- If this is a biomedical treatment, undertake it only under the direct and involved supervision of a qualified medical practitioner. This refers not only to chelation and supplements, but also to specialized diets which may have a negative nutritional impact on your child.
- If this is a new treatment, take scrupulous notes on what it is intended to do, and on its apparent outcomes – side effects included. Consider using a video camera to record your child’s behavior before, during and after the treatment or therapy.
- Try one approach at a time. If you start, for example, a special diet AND a new school AND developmental therapy all at the same time, it will be impossible to parse out which approach is working (or causing problems). Wait at least three months to decide whether a particular approach is helpful.
As many of you may have noticed, at this point the site is light on information about alternative treatments for autism. That problem will soon be addressed: I will be creating a new category for this site to include a wide variety of interventions which are new, innovative, or even not-quite-ready for prime time. In order to present them without bias, I will be interviewing both practitioners of the treatment and members of the medical community, and I’ll be including perspectives from both groups.
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