As you start to dig deeply into the literature on autism treatments, you'll find dozens of available options. Which are the "best" treatments? As the professionals will tell you over and over again, every child's needs are different. The treatments described in this article are among the best known, best researched, and most likely to produce positive results.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)is the oldest and most fully researched treatment specifically developed for autism. ABA is a very intensive system of reward-based training which focuses on teaching particular skills. If any autism-specific therapy is offered by your school and/or covered by your insurance, this will probably be the one.
Almost all people with autism have issues with speech and language. Sometimes these issues are obvious; many people with autism are non-verbal or use speech very poorly. Sometimes the issues relate not to articulation or grammar but to "speech pragmatics" (the use of speech to build social relationships). Across the board, though, speech and language therapy is likely to be helpful for people with autism.
Occupational therapy focuses on building daily living skills. Since many people with autism have delays in fine motor skills, occupational therapy can be very important. Occupational therapists may also have training in sensory integration therapy - a technique which may help autistic people manage hypersensitivity to sound, light, and touch.
One of autism's "core deficits" is a lack of social and communication skills. Many children with autism need help in building the skills they need to hold a conversation, connect with a new friend, or even navigate the playground. Social skills therapists can help out setting up and facilitating peer-based social interaction.
Autism is a "pervasive developmental delay." Many autistic people have gross motor delays, and some have low muscle tone (they're unusually weak). Physical therapy can build up strength, coordination, and basic sports skills.
Strange as it may sound, children with autism need help learning to play. And play can also serve as a tool for building speech, communication, and social skills. Play therapists may have training in particular therapeutic techniques such as Floortime or The Play Project - or they may incorporate play therapy into speech, occupational or physical therapy.
Children with autism are often frustrated. They are misunderstood, have a tough time communicating their needs, suffer from hypersensitivities to sound, light and touch ... no wonder they sometimes act out! Behavior therapists are trained to figure out just what lies behind negative behaviors, and to recommend changes to the environment and routines to improve behavior.
Floortime, Son-rise, and Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) are all considered to be "developmental treatments." This means that they build from a child's own interests, strengths and developmental level to increase emotional, social and intellectual abilities. Developmental therapies are often contrasted to behavioral therapies, which are best used to teach specific skills such as shoe tying, tooth brushing, etc.
Many people with autism are visual thinkers. Some do very well with picture-based communication systems such as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication). Video modeling, video games and electronic communication systems also tap into autistic people's visual strength to build skills and communication.
Biomedical treatments may include pharmaceuticals
, but most often biomedical treatments for autism are based on the Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) approach to autism therapy. Doctors trained in the DAN! "protocol"
prescribe special diets, supplements, and alternative treatments. None of these treatments have been approved by the FDA or CDC, but there are many anecdotal stories of positive outcomes.
If you consult a DAN! practitioner, be sure he is a board certified medical doctor. You might also want to take a quick look at this list of doctors.