An autism diagnosis can cause many parents and family members to experience various emotions — from anger and frustration to sadness and confusion. They might scour the internet and ask questions like “What causes autism?” or “How can autism be managed?”. One common question many parents ask at the beginning of this journey is: “Can autism be cured?”.
Unfortunately, after being bombarded with information and different thoughts, the answer is no. At least not yet.
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are a spectrum of neurodevelopmental conditions that can include, but not be limited to, difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors.
Researchers continue to study the continued diversity of ASD and have made significant advances in managing autism. However, a definitive “cure” is still elusive.
While the concept of a complete autism cure may not currently exist, there are interventions and therapies available that can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum. So, what does the research say about a potential cure or how to manage autism effectively? This article will discuss various treatments and therapies available for individuals with autism, examine their effectiveness, and discuss the concept of “curing” autism.
It is essential to always consult your child’s physician or other medical professional with questions because they can help guide the parent and caregiver in figuring out what treatments and possible therapies are best for their child. Everyone is different, and knowing that it is not a one-size-fits-all is vital.
First Things First
Before understanding the different treatment options, it is essential to understand the nature and scope of autism spectrum disorder and the fact that it is a spectrum disorder. Autism can be diagnosed in early childhood but sometimes later in life.
A wide range of symptoms and varying levels of severity characterizes it. Common signs of autism include challenges with social interactions, communication, specialized interests, repetitive behaviors, and an array of possible sensory sensitivities.
As a parent and caregiver, seeking out what is best for their child, including effective treatment, therapies, and possible “cures,” is natural. Researching and figuring out what may work best for their child is okay.
It is recommended to get information from credible sources and look for updated research and findings, as there have been a lot of changes in what people know about autism and treatments. Talking to other parents that have autistic children can also help with answering questions. It can point parents in the right direction.
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When it comes to finding out the newer and up-and-coming ways to treat autism effectively, it’s important to remember that earlier intervention is beneficial to the autistic child. There is still plenty of hope and opportunity for growth.
Some aspects to keep in mind when seeking therapies and treatments are to ask yourself if the therapies support:
- the ability to establish and form living skills in real-world activities with the goal of independent life;
- the development and growth of communication and language skills and how to use them;
- being able to develop the skills necessary to manage medications, other treatments, and medical issues of the individual; or
- acknowledge and give support and tools to manage and phase out aggressive or other behavioral difficulties.
When researching therapies, ask:
- about the validity of the treatment;
- what do the research findings say about the treatment and its results; and
- does this support or improve the livelihood of autistic people in any way?
Although research suggests that intensive, evidence-based interventions during early childhood can significantly improve outcomes for children on the autism spectrum. Therapies can fall into the seven types listed below:
- Social skills
- Complementary and alternative treatments
These approaches focus on building social and language skills, improving communication, and teaching adaptive skills. These interventions aim to enhance the child’s overall development and reduce the effects of autism symptoms.
Behavioral therapies have support and evidence that show their effectiveness when treating autism. They use the ABC, or Action, Behavior, and Consequence model, to understand the exhibited behavior problems.
These therapies include:
- Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): This approach focuses on rewarding and encouraging positive or desired behaviors and discouraging harmful and disruptive behaviors by tracking and measuring the progress of the individual.
- Discrete Trial Training (DTT): This approach is used within ABA therapy that breaks tasks down into step-by-step instructions to teach positive and desired behaviors.
- Pivotal Response Training (PRT): This is another approach used within ABA therapy and takes place in a natural setting versus at a clinic and helps form and support different behaviors that individuals would be expected to know.
Developmental therapies focus on creating and improving different developmental skills based on the individual and their specific needs. Developmental therapies are usually combined with behavioral therapies.
These therapies include:
- Speech therapy: A speech and language pathologist would work with the individual to improve the individual’s ability to use and understand both speech and language through different techniques; also, other supports would be provided based on the individual’s ability, such as picture charts and electronic communication devices.
- Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist would help teach independent life skills like dressing themselves, eating, making food, bathing, etc.
- Sensory integration therapy: This can be included within occupational therapy and focuses on how a person responds to overwhelming sensory input.
- Physical therapy: This therapy focuses on physical development, strengthening, and body movement, including fine and gross motor skills.
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM): This is a broad approach to development used with children 12-48 months old and is based on the different aspects of ABA.
Medications and Medical Interventions
Although there are currently no medications to treat autism spectrum disorders, there are medications that can help with other symptoms and diagnoses. These would include, but not be limited to:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- gastrointestinal issues
- self-harming behaviors
- inability to focus
- high energy levels
Parents should always talk to their child’s doctor to determine whether medication would help with any of their symptoms. They could also discuss potential side effects and treatments that could benefit the child.
Alternative and Complementary Therapies
Alternative therapies can be something that family members look into for individuals that may not be interested in medications and would like additional support. Although these therapies have less research to back their effectiveness, they can vary depending on the individual.
These therapies can include:
- Dietary changes: These can include removing certain foods like gluten, casein, food color, etc.
- Dietary supplements: When working with a medical professional who understands supplements, they can test and recommend different supplements that could benefit the individual, especially if they have a restricted diet.
- Chiropractor: To help with alignments and other aspects.
- Animal therapy: To help support an individual in managing anxiety, seizures, or other medical reason, animals can also help with communication skills and other life skills.
- Music therapy: Can help with anxiety and other aspects
Support Services for Individuals with Autism
In addition to the previously mentioned interventions, support services are important for individuals with autism and their families. These services may include:
- specialized education programs;
- vocational training;
- support groups; and
- community organizations.
These programs and groups can provide valuable resources, support, and a network of understanding individuals who can offer guidance and support.
While a cure for autism may seem elusive, it is essential to note that significant progress has been made in developing interventions that improve the lives of individuals on the spectrum. Services like early detection and intervention, behavioral and educational therapies, medications, and a range of support services can all contribute to the overall well-being of the autistic individual and their family members.
The statements and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent Autism Parenting Magazine.
CDC. (2022). Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html
NHS. (2022). Treatments That are not recommended for autism.