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Treatment For Autism

Treatment for autism is mostly based on methods of changing maladaptive behavior and developing Treatment for autism is primarily based on methods of changing maladaptive behavior and developing learning and communication skills. This line drawing was created by an autistic child, who has identified both himself ("Mike") and his brother ("Kevin") as passengers in the same car. (Gladys Agell and Vermont College of Norwich University) learning skills. Behavior modification approaches, educationally based approaches, speech therapy, parent skill training, and adaptive skill training are generally part of an individualized multimodal treatment plan. The prescribing of drugs is used as an adjunct to treat specific symptoms, but there is no medication that treats autism as a whole. In the latter part of the 1990s, comparative reviews of model programs have shown that multiple methods are effective and that there is no one behavioral approach that is of singular value. Intensity of treatment, age of initiation of treatment, parent training, high teacher to student ratios, and use of structured intervention procedures all contribute to positive outcomes. Proven treatments include the use of behavior analysis procedures using discrete trial training methods tailored for areas of common autistic cognitive and motivational deficit, and the Treatment and Education for Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) curriculum for structure with its emphasis on visually based guidance. Other treatment approaches target specific symptom areas such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), which targets communication. Most treatment programs are eclectic and integrate features of a number of approaches.

The field of autism treatment, both behavioral and medical, has been subject to many treatment fads, all claiming high levels of success that are either invalidated or simply not supported by subsequent controlled studies. On the behavioral side, such putative cures include facilitated communication, holding therapy, auditory integration therapy, and sensory-integration therapy. Putative cures on the medical side include treatment with megavitamins, B vitamins, dimethylglycene, secretin, and elimination diets for gluten and casein. Most families, at least initially, undertake multiple treatments including trials of some unproven treatments, which over time, tend to be tailored by perceived or measurable positive responses.


American Psychiatric Association. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

Bryson, S. E. "Epidemiology of Autism: Overview and Issues Understanding." In Donald J. Cohen and Fred R. Volkmar eds., Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley, 1997.

Green, Gina. "Evaluating Claims about Treatment for Autism." InCatherine Maurice, Gina Green, and Stephen Luce eds., Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism: A Manual for Parents and Professionals. Austin, TX: Pro Ed, 1996.

Harris, Sandra, and Jan Handleman, eds. Preschool Education Programs for Children with Autism. Austin, TX: Pro Ed, 1994.

Bryna Siegel

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 1Autism - Diagnosis, Prevalence Of Autism, Causes Of The Disorder, Autism's Clinical Course, Treatment For Autism