FRIDAY, May 27 (HealthDay News) -- Parents of children with
autism often find themselves struggling to make sense of their
What's worse, there's no single best way to treat the
frightening and frustrating neurodevelopmental disorder. Children
might have a mix of social impairments, communication problems and
repetitive behavior patterns. Each child will require a certain
blend of therapies, treatments and interventions, all specifically
tailored to the child's particular behavioral problems.
"Every person with autism is different," said Lee Grossman, president and chief executive of the Autism Society. "There's a saying, 'If you've met one person with autism, then you've met one person with autism.'"
That means parents usually have to figure it out for themselves,
with help from their medical team.
Experts agree on two basic principles when it comes to treating
people with autism, according to the U.S. National Institute of
"The earlier the child is diagnosed, and the better the quality and quantity of the programs they are in, the better their prognosis long-term," said James Ball, president and chief executive of JB Autism Consulting, in New Jersey, and chairman of the Autism Society's board of directors.
Many of the leading therapy options for autism are not medical
and instead involve education and behavioral intervention.
Ball said that a type of behavioral therapy called applied
behavioral analysis, which focuses on teaching useful skills that
build upon each other, has helped many children with autism.
"It teaches things repetitively so a child can learn and then generalize those skills," he said.
For example, teaching children to brush their teeth would
involve breaking down the activity into different skills --
squeezing out the toothpaste, brushing the teeth, rinsing the mouth
-- that are repetitively taught and ultimately woven together. "You
teach all the separate components up to the whole," Ball said.
Other children with the disorder might need speech therapy,
occupational therapy or other forms of behavioral therapy, Grossman
said. It all rests on finding a child's strongest and weakest areas
and using their strengths to help them overcome their
Kids with autism will often have more success in these therapies
if visual aids and cues are used, he said.
They often "have trouble with verbal instruction," Grossman
said. "If you can provide a learning environment where they see the
instrument and incorporate it into their activities, you'll have a
Children with autism also may benefit from medical interventions
tailored to their symptoms. Medication can be used to treat such
autism-related symptoms as seizures, depression, anxiety or
obsessive-compulsive disorder. Kids with severe behavioral problems
sometimes benefit from antipsychotic drugs.
Some parents have found that a dietary intervention can help
their child, according to the mental health institute. One
particular diet that has proven successful for some children
involves removing all gluten and casein from their food. Casein is
the main source of protein in milk, and gluten is a protein found
in wheat and other grains.
Parents also should make sure their child is healthy and not
suffering from illnesses that could exacerbate their behavioral
problems. "We would encourage all families to get a comprehensive
medical exam" for their child, Grossman said.
Health problems such as rashes, gastrointestinal disorders,
allergies, asthma and the like can create discomfort and throw
children off their beneficial therapies. "These are typically
overlooked with a child with autism because they are often
nonverbal and noncompliant," Grossman said. "The doctor may miss
some other treatable conditions."
Families with an autistic child also should understand that
every member will need help and should consider undergoing regular
family counseling, Ball said.
"It is a whole-family disorder," he said. "Everyone is affected. Families need to come up with a plan so they can meet everyone's needs."
Finding resources can be challenging, Ball and Grossman said.
Grossman knows that firsthand as he has child with autism, who now
"I was very angry and very frustrated because I couldn't find any help," he recalled. "I didn't know what to do." But he said that the group he now runs, the Autism Society, was key in helping him find doctors and therapists to help his son.
Grossman also speaks from personal knowledge when he says that
the best way to help children with autism is to pay attention to
how they act and what draws their interest and to then use that
knowledge to teach them life skills.
"The goal here is to have a person who has a satisfying quality of life and is a contributing member of their community," Grossman added. "With the proper supports, we believe everyone can achieve that."
Autism Speaks has more on
A companion article looks at
living with autism, from one family's perspective.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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