Treatment Options

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Discovering that your child has an autism spectrum disorder can be an overwhelming experience. For some, the diagnosis may come as a complete surprise; others may have had suspicions and tried for months or years to get an accurate diagnosis. In either case, a diagnosis brings a multitude of questions about how to proceed.

A generation ago, many people with autism were placed in institutions. Professionals were less educated about autism than they are today, and specific services and supports were largely non-existent. Today the picture is much clearer. With appropriate services and supports, training and information, children on the autism spectrum will grow, learn and flourish, even if at a different developmental rate than others.

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 autism, there is no single treatment that will be effective for all people on the spectrum. Individuals can 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 Autism Society, 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. As each individual responds to treatment differently, we are not able to endorse any one treatment or program. Families should educate themselves about all available options and choose what they feel is in the best interest of their child and family.

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 age three, the approaches described herein may be included in an educational program for older children as well.

Treatments can divided into Nonmedical Interventions, which include behavioral and educational approaches as well as sensory, communication and other interventions, and Biomedical Treatments, which include modifications in diet, addition of vitamins and minerals, gut treatments, immune system regulations and others.

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. The Autism Society 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 a treatment plan should come from a thorough evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses observed in the child.