Currently, there is no way to prevent autism from developing, and no cure if it does develop. So, what can be done to help the 1.5 million Americans with this disorder? A plethora of treatments can help autistic people learn, develop, and may reduce the challenges of this behavioral disorder. These treatment options can be loosely divided into three categories-behavioral and communication, biomedical and dietary, and complementary. Behavioral therapies are the cornerstone of most autism treatment, and many are based on the philosophy of rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior. Applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, usually involves intense one-on-one work between a therapist and an autistic person. In ABA, an autistic child may learn how to deal with social situations, or how to learn in a school environment. In a similar vein, communication therapy may help an autistic child learn to speak, or initiate language development in younger children. Children who cannot speak may be taught to use pictorial flashcards to express their needs. These behavioral and communication treatments may be combined with biomedical therapy, such as adding a prescription medication to the treatment plan. Although there is no medication specifically for autism, prescriptions designed to treat hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention difficulties, and anxiety may all be used. Medication treatment may help manage these behavioral manifestations of the disorder. Dietary approaches to treating autism fall into the same category as medication intervention. Although the disorder is NOT caused by diet, some researchers have found that eliminating gluten-which is found in wheat-and casein-a protein found in dairy products-may help improve autism symptoms. However, current evidence for efficacy of these diets is poor and large research studies are lacking. Researchers speculate that autistic children might not break down these proteins in the body, leading to an aggravation of their symptoms. Similarly, some studies have found that autistic children are lacking in certain vital vitamins and minerals, particularly Vitamin B. The final marker of autistic treatment is complementary, or alternative, therapies. For example, art therapy may offer an autistic child a way to communicate sans language. Developing productive leisure skills is no small goal for people with ASD. Self-direction, industriousness, patience, and pride in one's work are important life skills that require a great deal of teaching, often best done through motivating activities. Participating in music therapy may also allow autistics the opportunity to experience non-threatening outside stimulation, as they dont engage in direct human contact. A musical instrument can provide an initial point of contact between the autistic and the therapist. Animal therapy-like horseback riding-improves the childs motor skills, instills confidence, and teaches bonding. The blood pressure of autistic children is usually lowered when experiencing animal therapy, and insomnia and headache can be eased with this treatment as well. Companionship with animals can help reduce lonely feelings in autistic children, promoting healthy character development, including personality traits such as being respectful, trusting, contributing, and responsible. Autistic children may also learn decision-making and problem-solving, as well as language and social skills through interactions with animals. Many people with autism are hypersensitive or under-sensitive to light, noise, and touch. They may be unable to stand the sound of a dishwasher, or, on the other extreme, need to flap and even injure themselves to be fully aware of their bodies. Sensory integration therapy, which focuses on minimizing extreme reactions to sensory input, can help. Although some of these treatments can be effective, they will not all work for EVERY child with autism. As such, treating this disorder should be individualized. Work with your childs therapist and medical team to customize a program that will be most effective for your child considering his strengths and limitations.
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Last Updated:December 20, 2012