There are no medications that can cure ASD or treat the core symptoms. However, there are medications that can target disorders that may accompany ASD. For example, medication might help manage high activity levels, inability to focus, impulsivity, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, constipation, or seizures.
Medications might not affect all children in the same way. It is important to work with a health care professional who has experience in treating children with ASD. Parents and health care professionals must closely monitor a child’s progress and reactions while he or she is taking a medication to be sure that any negative side effects of the treatment do not outweigh the benefits.
Behaviour 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 Behaviour 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.
Occupational therapy teaches skills that help the person live as independently as possible. Skills might include dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people.
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.
Interventions that lack evidence and may be associated with harmful consequences:
Some dietary treatments have been developed by reliable therapists. But many of these treatments do not have the scientific support needed for widespread recommendation. An unproven treatment might help one child, but may not help another.
Many biomedical interventions call for changes in diet. Such changes include removing certain types of foods from a child’s diet and using vitamin or mineral supplements. Dietary treatments are based on the idea that food allergies or lack of vitamins and minerals cause symptoms of ASD. Some parents feel that dietary changes make a difference in how their child acts or feels.
If you are thinking about changing your child’s diet, talk to the doctor first. Also, talk with a nutritionist to be sure your child is getting important vitamins and minerals.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
To relieve the symptoms of ASD, some parents and health care professionals use treatments that are outside of what is typically recommended by the pediatrician. These types of treatments are known as complementary and alternative treatments (CAM). They might include special diets, chelation (a treatment to remove heavy metals like lead from the body), biologicals (e.g., secretin), or body-based systems (like deep pressure).
These types of treatments are very controversial. Current research shows that as many as one third of parents of children with an ASD may have tried complementary or alternative medicine treatments, and up to 10% may be using a potentially dangerous treatment. Before starting such a treatment, check it out carefully, and talk to your child’s doctor.