The phrase “autism treatment” can cause quite a controversy in the autism community. At one time, autism was viewed as something “wrong” with a person that needed to be cured. As more research has been done, we’ve learned much more about autism and see neurodivergence differently.
Research has provided incredible resources for parents and guardians of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is now a plethora of information available to help guide guardians to the correct path for their child. While therapies and medications have gone a long way in “treating” autism, we’ve learned that autism doesn’t need to be cured. Therapies and medications can help treat some symptoms and associated medical conditions with autism. They can serve as an autism treatment to help those on the autism spectrum recognize triggers for certain situations and how to manage behaviors more effectively.
Several different approaches to autism treatment developed over the last decade:
- Early Detection and Intervention
- Behavioral Interventions
- Communication Interventions
- Sensory-Based Interventions
- Arts Interventions
- Nutritional therapy
Early Detection and Intervention
Many studies have found that early diagnosis and interventions for autism increase the likelihood of positive effects on symptoms and skills. Early intervention usually happens before children with autism begin preschool. It encourages many therapies to be introduced while the child’s brain develops.
Those therapies include:
- Family Therapies
- Speech therapy
- Hearing Impairment Services
- Physical therapy
- Nutrition Services
Early diagnosis can give the child a better starting position. It can increase their chances of developing to their fullest potential. This includes early intensive behavioral intervention.
With my kids, both Remy and Joey have undergone occupational therapy, which is similar to physical therapy but focuses on fine motor skills. Joey has also undergone physical therapy to improve gross motor skills and speech therapy as he is nonverbal. While Joey rarely says words, speech therapy has increased his communication skills through teaching sign language, the picture exchange system, and the use of an AAC device. In his case, he uses an iPad with the ProLoQuo2Go app to help him ask for snacks, a car ride, or a television show he may want to see.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy as part of its developmental approach to autism treatment. Again, these are not cures, but they can help your child with autism spectrum disorder understand a situation and the best way to address it. While they are focused on the physical, these therapies can also improve social skills.
But it’s up to us as parents to find out what’s available in our area and what works best for our children with autism spectrum. Each child is different and will require different needs, but these therapies have been shown to work when needed.
Medication can be a controversial topic under any circumstances, but it’s certainly controversial when it comes to autism treatment options. Some children with autism spectrum disorder may require medication to help keep certain other medical conditions under control. Other children with autism spectrum may not. Again, it’s up to the parent to pay attention to the situation and determine if their children need medication.
From a personal perspective, my older son, Jeremy, has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. When he is overwhelmed and can’t control his emotions, he sometimes needs hemp-based CBD oil. It helps to calm him, and he can recognize the situation and its toll on him physically and emotionally. That is a last resort because we try to help him get his emotions under control using coping strategies he has learned through counseling and at school. While those are great, they don’t always work.
It must also be noted that CBD oil may not be an option because different countries and even states have other laws regarding CBD oil. Also, some CBD oil comes from cannabis, and there is debate about whether it is okay to give cannabis CBD oil to a child; however, it may be an option for an adult with autism spectrum disorder, depending on the country or state where you live. However, the National Institutes for Health has found CBD Oil to demonstrate effectiveness in managing symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder.
In contrast to Jeremy, my younger son, Joey, requires multiple medications. Despite not being diagnosed with any sleep disorders, he has gone through several sleep disturbances and regressions in his young life. It reached a point where some nights he would only sleep for two hours and be up and ready for the day. We tried warm milk and melatonin, but little seemed to work. His doctor prescribed clonidine, and we were hesitant to give it to him initially. It’s a tough decision to give your child medication. Still, we eventually relented, and since then, he has slept through the night most nights. It doesn’t completely stop sleep regression but it has made it more manageable.
While autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy are not directly linked, the two have a high correlation. Following a seizure in June 2022, Joey was diagnosed with epilepsy and required medication to prevent future seizures. He is just one of many children on the autism spectrum diagnosed with epilepsy.
As with any medication, there is a risk of side effects should you choose this route, so please research every drug thoroughly before giving it to your child.
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Behavioral therapies are another treatment option for autism spectrum disorders. The most commonly suggested intervention is applied behavior analysis or ABA therapy. ABA is used in many schools and by healthcare professionals.
ABA is usually divided into two formats. The first format is designed to ignore negative behaviors. Discrete trial training uses step-by-step instructions to guide children to a desired behavior. There is also pivotal response training in more playful and natural settings for the child.
Many adults with autism spectrum disorder have spoken out against ABA therapy due to a negative experience. The Child Mind Institute even addressed the controversy and how the discrete trial training method was viewed as too focused on eliminating behaviors and making children on the autism spectrum appear the same as their peers despite being neurodivergent.
Immediately following my son Joey’s diagnosis, we started applied behavior analysis with him. The therapists were wonderful people, and they pushed for positive reinforcement. However, he seemed to be picking up the idea that he should get a reward for anything he did, so we moved away from ABA and set Joey up with more speech, physical, and occupational therapy.
I can’t tell you if ABA is right for your child. Still, every parent must know that while it is highly recommended, it is also controversial within the autism community.
The past decade has seen an advancement in the use of technology when it comes to autism treatments. Some of these are considered alternative treatments, but one day may become more recommended.
In 2022, a study at Tel Aviv University found pressure chamber therapy highly effective at treating autism symptoms. The study found improved social skills and decreased inflammation in the brain. Of course, we are a long way from this being a standard recommendation, but it is a breakthrough.
There are also technological interventions that have been developed over the past decade. According to the website autismcrc.com, these interventions cover eight categories:
- Mobile Technology
- Shared Active Services
- Virtual and Augmented Reality
- Sensor-Based and Wearable Technology
- Natural User Interface
My personal experience covers mobile technology leading to another treatment, communication intervention. As I addressed earlier, my son Joey uses an AAC device. This iPad uses a program designed to improve his communication skills. That’s the only one I can personally recommend. However, many of these technological advancements make monitoring progress and your child’s ability easier.
Sensory-based Interventions are also considered increasingly crucial to a child’s development. These interventions are designed to help children on the autism spectrum to process stimuli more effectively. Scientists believe these will help the child acquire more skills and help with self-regulating behaviors.
Arts intervention is considered a more effective treatment for nonverbal children. These interventions, whether painting, music, drama, visual arts, or dance, can help the child communicate more effectively. According to the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning, art intervention can be helpful in these ways:
- Enhance Communication
- Improve Imagination
- Build Stronger Relationships
- Improve Sensory Integration and Coping Skills
- Enhance Visual and Spatial Skills
- Increase Emotional and Sensory Regulation
Nutrition is an essential part of everyone’s life. Still, it may be hard to ensure a person with autism spectrum disorder is eating properly. They may not like certain foods due to their texture. These may require special diets. But nutritional therapy can help children and parents learn what foods will give them the nutrients they need while also helping them enjoy eating.
According to the Food for the Brain Foundation, nutritional therapies have shown improvements in several aspects of the lives of people with autism spectrum disorder, including:
- Improving Digestion
- Balancing Blood Sugar
- Increasing Omega-3 Fats
- Increasing Vitamins and Minerals
- Avoiding Food Allergies
Many new perceived “treatment” options are more complementary and alternative treatments. They are focused on improving the child’s overall health to help manage some of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.
My wife practices Reiki, energy healing, and has used it on our older son, Jeremy. He has told us several times that he feels better after she performs a Reiki session on him. How it works, I don’t know, and neither does he. But he believes it helps him.
Many of these autism therapies can improve life, language, and everyday skills. Check with your child’s doctor before starting these treatment options or therapies. The doctor needs to know so they can observe any physical changes in your child.
But please remember, there is no cure, and autism spectrum disorder isn’t something that needs to be cured. Still, your child won’t have to suffer with these options available.