Treatment Options

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Just decades 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. The picture is much clearer now. 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 can address some of the challenges associated with the condition. Intervention can help to lessen disruptive behaviors, and education can teach self-help skills for greater independence. But just as there is no one symptom or behavior that identifies people with autism, there is no single treatment that will be effective for everyone on the spectrum. Individuals can use the positive aspects of their condition to their benefit, but treatment must begin as early as possible and focus on the individual’s unique strengths, weaknesses and needs.

Throughout the history of the Autism Society, parents and professionals have been confounded by conflicting messages regarding which treatment approaches are appropriate for children and adults on the autism spectrum. As each person responds to treatment differently, we cannot endorse any one treatment or program. Families should educate themselves about all options and choose what they feel is in the best interest of their child and family, based on their experience and what resources are available.

This section provides an overview of many 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 here can 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 therapies, and biomedical treatments, such as diet modifications, 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 help him/her reach established goals and greatest potential. The Autism Society does not want to give the impression that parents or professionals will select just one treatment from a list. 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. The basis a treatment plan should come from a thorough evaluation of the child’s strengths and weaknesses.