EVALUATING AUTISM THERAPIES:
Once an individual receives a diagnosis of autism, the parent's first reaction may be to wonder: What can be done? Is there a treatment or a cure? You may have surmised from reading basic information on autism that currently there is no cure, but autism can be positively affected and treatments exist that may reduce or eliminate some of the behavior characteristics of the disability.
Autism is not a disease. There is not a single treatment such as a drug or therapy program that will work for all individuals. Treatment often comes in the form of individualized plans designed to meet all areas of need. Based on the major characteristics associated with autism, there are areas, which are important to look at when creating a plan: social skill development, communication, behavior, and sensory integration.
Your next question may be: What treatment or treatments are most effective? Because of the spectrum nature of the disability, there is no one treatment, which is equally effective for every individual with autism. Some treatments have research studies that support their efficacy, others may not. Even for those with "scientific" proof, we recommend the family or caregiver read the research information offered and look for replication studies done by other professionals that also support their findings. Included at the end of this package are other suggestions to aide in your evaluation of treatment options.
Many professionals have agreed that individuals with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized education programs, tailored to the individual's needs. Programs sometimes include several treatment components coordinated to assist a person with autism. For example, one individual's program may consist of speech therapy, social skill development and the use of medication, all within a structured behavior program. Another's program may include music therapy, sensory integration and dietary interventions in addition to communication and behavioral therapy. No single program or service will fill the needs of everyone. Strategies to help a person with autism should be part of a comprehensive plan. Each family and individual with autism should learn about, and then select, the options they feel are most appropriate.
The following section will discuss treatment options available for individuals with autism. The particular treatments mentioned below are based on the most frequent inquiries received by the Autism Society of America national office and is not an exhaustive list. Furthermore, this is intended to provide a general overview of available options, not specific treatment recommendations.
Before we list various options you may wish to explore, we'd like to briefly discuss our use of the word "treatment". The word treatment is used only in a very limited sense. Meeting the challenges of autism can be better described as education rather than treatment.
The goal in providing this written material is to help families appropriately match up the unique need plus potential of each individual with autism to treatments or strategies which are likely to be effective in moving the person closer to normal functioning. We want to avoid giving the impression that a parent or care provider will be selecting just one item from this list and excluding the other options, or that all of these treatment options are equal to one another. Communication and social skills, for example, are likely to be at the core of all education plans and reflect the needs of most people with autism. The basis for choosing any treatment plan should be a thorough evaluation of the needs observed in the child.