Understanding Autism Treatment

Every person with autism is different; therefore every treatment plan should be custom-fit in order to address that person’s needs. Treatment for autism can involve behavioral and medicinal components or a combination of both. Many with autism have accompanying medical conditions such as gastrointestinal problems, seizures, and sleep issues. Treating these accompanying conditions can improve learning, focus, and behaviors related to these.

Early and intensive behavior intervention typically involves the child’s whole family and a team of medical specialists. In some autism intervention programs, a therapist will come to the patient’s home to provide services. These can include parent-assisted sessions where the parent performs the therapy under professional supervision.

Other autism care programs deliver services in a classroom setting, to help prepare the patient for school. In most cases, different support and intervention types are needed as a child matures; as children reach school age, they derive a greater benefit from specialized teaching and training in social skills. Teenagers with autism gain from transitional or supported living services that encourage them to move into a more independent lifestyle; the services prepare them for adulthood by teaching them skills that make them more employable.

There are two methods of early behavioral intervention that have been proven effective by science. These are the Early Start Denver Model and the Lovaas Model, which is based on ABA (applied behavioral analysis). Therapists and parents alike have anecdotally reported success with other therapeutic options, such as pivotal response therapy, floortime, and verbal behavioral therapy.

Studies indicate that early and intensive intervention improves communication, social and learning skills in autistic children, but outcomes do vary. Research has helped professionals develop a variety of intervention techniques, which vary in detail, but have common features, such as:

  • The patient receives at least 25 hours weekly of structured therapy.
  • Therapy is delivered by teachers and therapists. Paraprofessionals can assist, with adequate training and supervision by an autism therapist.
  • Therapies are guided by defined objectives, and the patient’s progress is recorded and evaluated on a regular basis.
  • Intervention is focused on autism-affected core areas such as communication, social skills, daily living and motor skills, and imitation.
  • Patients are provided with ample opportunity to interact with peers of typical development.
  • Parents are active in the intervention, both in the decision-making and implementation phases.
  • The patient’s unique perspective, values and needs are respected.

There’s mounting evidence that a very small minority of autism patients make progress to the point where they are no longer able to be diagnosed as having ASD (autism spectrum disorder). There are a variety of theories as to why; movement off the spectrum can be caused by misdiagnosis, the patient “growing out” of the disorder, and a best outcome status.

Some younger patients who don’t meet the ASD criteria are diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), anxiety, or Asperger Syndrome (a form of high-functioning autism). There’s no way to gauge the percentage of people with autism who will progress so much that they lose their diagnosis, but we do know that significant improvement is usually realized through early intervention. Many with autism go on and live fulfilling, completely independent lives, and all deserve the opportunity to work, develop relationships, and have a fulfilling life.

This article was written by Crispin Jones on behalf of Voyage Care, providers of autism care and supported living services. Have a look at their site for more information on supported living or autism care.

Photo: Beverly & Pack