There is no doubt in my mind that everyone that come across a diagnosis, no matter what the disease is, will start looking for available treatments and a cure to their problem. So one of the first thing I started looking for was what could I do to cure my child. I found out that while there is no known cure for autism, there are treatment and educational approaches that can address some of the challenges associated with the condition.
Most professionals agree that the sooner in life a child receives early intervention services, the better the child’s prognosis. As soon as autism is diagnosed, early intervention instruction should begin.
Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Effective programs focus on developing communication, social, and cognitive skills. Treatment works to minimize the impact of the core features associated deficits of ASD and to maximize functional independence and quality of life. Each child or adult with autism is unique and, so, each autism intervention plan should be tailored to address specific needs.
Early intensive behavioral intervention involves a child’s entire family working closely with a team of professionals. In some early intervention programs, therapists come into the home to deliver services. This can include parent training with the parent leading therapy sessions under the supervision of the therapist. Other programs deliver therapy in a specialized center, classroom or preschool.
In addition to communication, social, and cognitive deficits many persons with autism have additional medical conditions such as sleep disturbance, seizures and gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Addressing these conditions can improve attention, learning and related behaviors.
Types of Treatments
There are many different types of treatments available. For example, auditory training, discrete trial training, vitamin therapy, anti-yeast therapy, facilitated communication, music therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and sensory integration.
The different types of treatments can generally be broken down into the following categories:
· Behavior and Communication Approaches
· Dietary Approaches
· Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Behavior and Communication Approaches
According to reports by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Research Council, behavior and communication approaches that help children with ASD are those that provide structure, direction, and organization for the child in addition to family participation.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
A notable treatment approach for people with an ASD is called applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA has become widely accepted among health care professionals and used in many schools and treatment clinics. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills. The child’s progress is tracked and measured.
There are different types of ABA. Following are some examples:
· Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
DTT is a style of teaching that uses a series of trials to teach each step of a desired behavior or response. Lessons are broken down into their simplest parts and positive reinforcement is used to reward correct answers and behaviors. Incorrect answers are ignored.
· Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI)
This is a type of ABA for very young children with an ASD, usually younger than five, and often younger than three.
· Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
PRT aims to increase a child’s motivation to learn, monitor his own behavior, and initiate communication with others. Positive changes in these behaviors should have widespread effects on other behaviors.
· Verbal Behavior Intervention (VBI)
VBI is a type of ABA that focuses on teaching verbal skills.
The Lovaas Model consists of 20-40 hours of highly structured, discrete trial training, integrating ABA techniques into an early intervention program. The intervention typically begins when the child is between the ages of 2-8 years old, and no later than 12 years old. The technique utilizes child-specific reinforcers to motivate and reward success. Additionally, the use of language and imitation are crucial for the teaching model.
The Early Start Denver Model is an early intervention program designed for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers ages 12-48 months with autism. Developed by Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., and Sally Rogers, Ph.D., it is the only experimentally verified early-intervention program designed for children with autism as young as 18 months old. ESDM applies the principles of ABA to an early-intervention program. Similar to Pivotal Response Training, interventions are delivered within play-based, relationship-focused routines.
Other therapies that can be part of a complete treatment program for a child with an ASD include:
Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR; also called “Floortime”)
Floortime focuses on emotional and relational development (feelings, relationships with caregivers). It also focuses on how the child deals with sights, sounds, and smells.
Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI)
RDI is a family-based, behavioral treatment designed to address autism’s core symptoms. Developed by psychologist Steven Gutstein, Ph.D., it builds on the theory that “dynamic intelligence” is key to improving quality of life for individuals with autism. Dr. Gutstein defines dynamic intelligence as the ability to think flexibly. This includes appreciating different perspectives, coping with change and integrating information from multiple sources (e.g. sights and sounds).
Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped CHildren (TEACCH)
TEAACH uses visual cues to teach skills. For example, picture cards can help teach a child how to get dressed by breaking information down into small steps.
Occupational therapy is often used as a treatment for the sensory integration issues associated with ASDs. It is also used to help teach life skills that involve fine-motor movements, such as dressing, using utensils, cutting with scissors, and writing. OT works to improve the individual’s quality of life and ability to participate fully in daily activities.
Physical therapy is used to improve gross motor skills and handle sensory integration issues, particularly those involving the individual’s ability to feel and be aware of his body in space. Similar to OT, physical therapy is used to improve the individual’s ability to participate in everyday activities. PT works to teach and improve skills such as walking, sitting, coordination, and balance.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory integration therapy helps the person deal with sensory information, like sights, sounds, and smells. Sensory integration therapy could help a child who is bothered by certain sounds or does not like to be touched.
Speech therapy helps to improve the person’s communication skills. Some people are able to learn verbal communication skills. For others, using gestures or picture boards is more realistic.
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
PECS uses picture symbols to teach communication skills. The person is taught to use picture symbols to ask and answer questions and have a conversation.
Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets (PROMPT)
This is a multidimensional approach to speech production disorders has come to embrace not only the well-known physical-sensory aspects of motor performance, but also its cognitive-linguistic and social-emotional aspects. PROMPT is about integrating all domains and systems towards positive communication outcome. It may be used (with varying intensity and focus) with all speech production disorders from approximately 6 months of age onward. To achieve the best outcome with PROMPT it should not be thought of or used mainly to facilitate oral-motor skills, produce individual sounds/phonemes or as an articulation program but rather as a program to develop motor skill in the development of language for interaction.
There are no medications that can cure ASD or even treat the main symptoms. Pharmaceutical treatments can help ameliorate some of the behavioral symptoms of ASD, including irritability, aggression, self-injurious behavior, manage high energy levels, inability to focus, depression, or seizures. Additionally, by medically reducing interfering or disruptive behaviors, other treatments, including ABA, may be more effective. Medications should be prescribed and monitored by a qualified physician.
Autism Science Foundation
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)