Psychological Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents

Effective Treatments for Autism

Published on: September 18, 2013  

Effective Treatments for Autism

Over the last several weeks, we have been talking a lot about Autism Spectrum Disorders: the signs and symptoms, how they are diagnosed, and one very effective treatment (i.e., Applied Behavior Analysis therapy). Today, we will continue our discussion of effective treatments for autism while also answering some “frequently asked questions” about treatment services.

Is there a cure for autism?

This is a hotly debated topic these days, especially in the media, and even doctors disagree about the answer to this question. Because there has been no identified cause for autism, there also is no single identified “cure.” However, most doctors agree, and research does suggest, that children with autism have a much better prognosis the earlier they receive intervention. To learn more about Early Intervention and ABA therapy, see last week’s post.

What specific therapies are available and effective?

Speech/Language Therapy

Because one of the core deficits of autism is related to social communication, many children with an ASD benefit from individualized speech-language therapy that directly targets those skill deficits. Speech therapy can happen at your child’s school or in a private setting outside the school. It may be conducted individually, in a small group, or in the child’s classroom, depending on his/her needs. Speech-language therapy includes more than helping your child form words verbally; it can also help with establishing a language system that is nonverbal, such as using gestures, sign language, and picture exchange systems.

Social Skills Interventions

Programs that use an ABA approach often integrate individual social skills interventions that are individualized for your child. Some local schools or doctors’ offices, like Gyro Psychology Services, also provide social skills group therapies that can help your child learn some basic skills for interacting with their peers. Contact your doctor to ask about social skills groups in your area.

What other, related services are available and effective?

There are several other “related services” that may be helpful for your child, and these services are therapies that address symptoms commonly associated with autism but are not necessarily specific to the disorder:

  • Occupational Therapy, to address difficulties with fine motor skills (e.g., using writing utensils), basic self-care skills (e.g., getting dressed or eating with a fork), or basic play skills. Sensory Integration Therapy is often conducted by an occupational therapist, and is targeted at reducing difficulties with processing sensory input with the use of calming activities like brushing, swinging, or using weighted vests. However, despite decades of scientific research, studies on the effectiveness of Sensory Integration Therapy are insufficient and it is not currently considered a standard treatment for children with an ASD.
  • Physical Therapy can be used to target specific gross motor skill deficits (e.g., walking or climbing stairs) in children with developmental delays.

What about other medical interventions, like special diets?

While there have not yet been sufficient scientific studies to support this theory, many families report that dietary elimination of gluten and casein has helped reduce some of their child’s symptoms. Research studies have found that removing gluten/casein from the diet of a child with an ASD did not improve social skills or communication, nor did it lessen activity levels or improve sleep duration. Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist/dietician before implementing any kind of restrictive diet with your child.

What treatments are not effective and should be avoided?

Because no single cure has been identified for autism, it is understandable that many parents over the years have sought out a variety of treatments that might be able to help their children. There are a few therapies that scientists have proven to be ineffective, and potentially harmful. Therapies to avoid include:

  • Chelation (a potentially dangerous treatment which involves the binding of heavy metals in the body and allowing them to be excreted through the urine)
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (a potentially dangerous treatment with several side effects, which includes placing the patient in a large container and increasing air pressure and oxygen levels)
  • Secretin (a hormone that controls digestion, which has been shown to be ineffective)

Whatever you do, know that family involvement is key.

We cannot stress to you enough how important it is that as parents, you are actively involved in your child’s treatment. Parents should have regular communication with their child’s teachers, therapists, doctors, and other care providers to ensure that maximum benefits are received from any treatment approach you take. Children’s learning does not stop when they leave school or the therapist’s office, so parents who are “in the know” with each child’s provider can help their children by extending learning opportunities at home, too.

For more information on effective treatments for autism, we recommend the following resources:

CDC website on autism

ASDs: What Every Parent Needs to Know (published by the American Academy of Pediatrics)

If you have questions about a particular type of treatment for autism, please talk with your doctor or talk to us here at Gyro Psychology Services. We are here to help you!

Warmest Regards,

Gyro Psychology Services, Inc.

Olympia, Washington


866.616.GYRO (4976)

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