The first step to treating autism is recognizing it.
Parents typically become concerned with their children roughly starting at ages 1-2, when they notice certain problems. Development of speech may suddenly slow down or stop, and the child may start to become less responsive.
Doctors are often approached with symptoms like: “My child doesn’t seem to hear so well anymore, or respond to his name.” Or, “My child has stopped pointing at things and doesn’t seem to be interested in the world as much.”
An appropriate diagnosis requires extensive evaluation.
Treatment of autism needs to be on multiple levels. There are more than a dozen therapeutic options, like speech/language therapy, social stories training and sensory integration. Engaging with the child is the principle, but it’s harder than normal because of the autistic differences.
One has to understand how the kid perceives the world, enter their world, and help them learn how to function as others typically do.
Many of the therapies are theoretical and hard to analyze scientifically, like music therapy or sensory therapy.
We know one thing. Therapy for at least 20 hours a week focused on the kids strengths and weaknesses is essential. The general principal is to “teach in small steps,” have the kid master something, then generalize from there.
One approach is ABA – applied behavioral analysis. Some studies have shown that it may be among the most effective therapies for autism. It roughly consists of positively reinforcing good behaviors while understanding what situations cause problem behavior and avoiding them.
Importantly, 75% of kids with autism suffer from some other problem which also needs to be treated. Common issues include epilepsy and aggressive or destructive behavior. In less than 10% of kids, the autism is itself caused by a medical issue like Fragile X Syndrome.
There is very little scientifically valid research into the environmental causes and treatment of autism. It is possible that nutritional issues may contribute to autism, and so, as always, it is vital that children be given a diet that is balanced, healthy, and provides essential nutrients.
When in doubt, consulting with a nutritionist is the best idea
The parents need support and help. They have a great challenge; their child needs understanding and care. It’s important that they are properly trained in ways to relate to their kid best, and to possibly receive support from peers.
Autism itself is not a reason for medication, and there are no medications approved for helping with the social and communication issues associated with autism. Autistic children may also be more sensitive than normal to medications.
Up to 1/3 of parents may turn to SSRIs to treat repetitive behaviors. Unfortunately, a recent study shows that this use, especially for the medication Celexa, may not work. It may even cause side effects like reduced attention and diarrhea.
There are only two medications that have been shown to help in at least two studies with some of the behavioral problems associated with autism: risperidone, and methlyphendiate. Caution is extremely necessary, and medication can not replace the needed intensive therapy.
You might like:
Clinical Assessment and Management of Toddlers With Suspected Autism Spectrum Disorder: Insights From Studies of High-Risk Infants
A Review of the State of the Science for Pediatric Primary Health Care Clinicians
Psychopharmacology of aggression in children and adolescents with autism: a critical review of efficacy and tolerability.