• Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • ASD

Autism

Autism is a developmental disability characterized by significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Children with autism often communicate, interact, behave, and learn in atypical ways. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, and are about four times more common in boys than girls. The causes of autism are not fully known, but there are many likely contributors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), which is looking at many possible risk factors for autism, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.

According to the CDC, the following are common signs of autism: not pointing at objects to show interest, failing to look at an object pointed out by someone else, difficulty relating to others or being generally disinterested in other people, avoidance of eye contact and self-isolation, trouble understanding others’ feelings or communicating their own, preferring not to be cuddled (or only when they want to), appearing not to be aware when spoken to, taking an increased interest in other people but not knowing how to interact with them, repetition of words and phrases heard, but not using them in standard conversation, repetitive actions, difficulty adapting to routine changes, and having unusual reactions to sensory stimuli (smell, taste, sound, feel, etc.), among others.

An autism diagnosis can be challenging since there are no medical tests to detect the disorder. Physicians make a diagnosis by spending time observing a child’s behavior and development. Though sometimes earlier, an autism diagnosis by an experienced professional is considered very reliable by the time a child is two years old. Unfortunately, many children go undiagnosed until much later, delaying important early educational, behavioral, and social interventions.

While there is no cure for autism, current behavioral and medical therapies are effective in managing symptoms and improving daily function in children with ASD.

Conventional Treatment

The prevalence of autism has increased over the last two decades, largely due to increased awareness and accurate diagnosis. As such, treatment options have become increasingly imperative. The National Academy of Sciences recommends that children with ASD receive intensive autism-directed behavioral and educational treatments for a minimum of 25 hours each week.

Most autism intervention programs come from a field known as Applied Behavior Analysis, which centers on the way environment influences behavior. Some of the interventions found to be useful in autism therapy include Discrete Trial Training which involves breaking down complex skills into simpler skills that are taught through repeated, structured trials; Pivotal Response Training, is play-based and child-directed therapy that targets pivotal areas of a child’s development, including “responsiveness to multiple cues, motivation, self-management and child self-initiations.” In Floortime therapy, parents play with the child through activities that the child enjoys, following the child’s lead, and building into more complex interactions. Denver Model treatment involves a program individually tailored to the child’s development, in the child’s natural environment, at common times like meals, bath time, and friend play, with focus on the child’s language and social-emotional development. JASPER (Joint attention symbolic play engagement regulation) is a play-based intervention that targets joint attention and play skills. Studies have shown improvement with social communication, especially language, in autistic children.

According to the Child Neurology Foundation, “two medications, Risperidone and Arapiprazole, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of ‘irritability’ in ASD, with ongoing research on several other medications for symptoms associated with ASD.” In conjunction with behavioral intervention, these medications can be effective in the regulation of aggression, self-injury, repetitive behaviors, and sometimes overall attention and engagement. Additional therapeutic options include auditory training, vitamin therapy, diet modification, anti-yeast therapy, facilitated communication, music therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and sensory integration. While there is no cure for autism, current behavioral and medical therapies are effective in managing symptoms and improving daily function in children with ASD.