Types of Treatments
There are many types of treatments available. These include applied behavior analysis, social skills training, occupational therapy, physical therapy, sensory integration therapy, and the use of assistive technology.
The types of treatments generally can be broken down into the following categories:
- Behavior and Communication Approaches
- Dietary Approaches
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine
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 Behavior Analysis (ABA)
A notable treatment approach for people with ASD is called applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA has become widely accepted among healthcare professionals and used in many schools and treatment clinics. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors to improve a variety of skills. The child’s progress is tracked and measured.
There are different types of ABA. Here 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 ASD, usually younger than 5 and often younger than 3. EIBI uses a highly structured teaching approach to build positive behaviors (such as social communication) and reduce unwanted behaviors (such as tantrums, aggression, and self-injury). EIBI takes place in a one-on-one adult-to-child environment under the supervision of a trained professional.
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
This is a type of ABA for children with ASD between the ages of 12-48 months. Through ESDM, parents and therapists use play and joint activities to help children advance their social, language, and cognitive skills.
- Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
PRT aims to increase a child’s motivation to learn, monitor their own behavior, and initiate communication with others. Positive changes in these behaviors are believed to have widespread effects on other behaviors.
- Verbal Behavior Intervention (VBI)
VBI is a type of ABA that focuses on teaching verbal skills.
There are other therapies that can be part of a complete treatment program for a child with ASD:
Assistive technology, including devices such as communication boards and electronic tablets, can help people with ASD communicate and interact with others. For example, the Picture Exchange Communication System (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. Other individuals may use a tablet as a speech-generating or communication device.
Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (also called “Floortime”)
Floortime focuses on emotional and relational development (feelings and relationships with caregivers). It also focuses on how the child deals with sights, sounds, and smells.
Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped CHildren (TEACCH)external icon
TEACCH uses visual cues to teach skills. For example, picture cards can help teach a child how to get dressed by breaking information down into small steps.
Occupational therapy teaches skills that help the person live as independently as possible. Skills may include dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people.
Social Skills Training
Social skills training teaches children the skills they need to interact with others, including conversation and problem-solving skills.
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.
Visit the Autism Speaksexternal icon, Autism Societyexternal icon, or National Center for Child Health and Human Developmentexternal icon website to read more about these therapies.
Some dietary treatments have been developed to address ASD symptoms. However, a 2017 systematic review of 19 randomized control trials found little evidence to support the use of dietary treatments for children with ASD .
Some biomedical interventions call for changes in diet. Such changes can include removing certain 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 or with a registered dietitian to be sure your child’s diet includes the necessary vitamins and minerals for their growth and development.
There are no medications that can cure ASD or treat the core symptoms. However, there are medications that can help some people with ASD function better. For example, medication might help manage high energy levels, inability to focus, anxiety and depression, behavioral reactivity, self-injury, or seizures.
Medications might not affect all children in the same way. It is important to work with a healthcare professional who has experience in treating children with ASD. Parents and healthcare 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.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments
To relieve the symptoms of ASD, some parents and healthcare professionals use treatments that are outside of what is typically recommended by pediatricians. These treatments are known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments. CAM treatments refer to products or services that are used in addition to or instead of traditional medicine. They might include special diets, dietary supplements, chelation (a treatment to remove heavy metals such as lead from the body), biologicals (for example, secretin), or mind-body medicine.
Many of these treatments have not been studied for effectiveness; moreover, a review of studies on chelation found some evidence of harm and no evidence to indicate it is effective in treating children with ASD