Misinformation about autism is very common. Claims of a cure for autism are constantly presented to families of individuals with autism. There are various treatment models found within both the educational and clinical settings. Yet, there is only one treatment approach that has prevailed over time and is effective for all persons, with or without autism. That treatment model is an educational program that is suitable to a student's developmental level of performance. For adults, that treatment model refers to a vocational program that is suitable to the individual's developmental level of functioning.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) Act of 1990, students with a handicap are guaranteed an "appropriate education" in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), which is generally considered to be as normal an educational setting as possible. As a result of this legislation, children with autism have often been placed in a mainstreamed classroom and pulled out for whatever supplementary services were needed. Depending on the child's needs, he or she could be placed up to 100% of the school day in a mainstreamed or a special education setting or any combination of the two.
There is an increasing trend, however, among the advocates for children with autism, to segregate these children into small, highly structured and controlled academic settings that are almost free from auditory and visual stimulation. All instruction is broken down into manageable segments. Information is presented in tiny units and the child's response is immediately sought. A classic stimulus-response approach is used to maximize learning. Each unit of information is mastered before another is presented.
Individuals with autism need to be taught how to communicate and interact with others. This is not a simple task, and it involves the entire family as well as other professionals. Parents of a child or adult with autism must continually educate themselves about new treatments and keep an open mind. Some treatments may be appropriate for some individuals but not for others. Many treatments have yet to be scientifically proven. Treatment decisions should always be made individually after a thorough assessment and based on what is suitable for that person and his or her family.
It is important to remember, despite some recent denials, that autism is usually a lifelong condition. The kind of support that is appropriate will change as the individual develops. Families must beware of treatment programs that give false hope of a cure. Acceptance of the condition in a family member is a very critical, foundational component of any treatment program and is understandably quite difficult.
Several medications have been tried or are under current scrutiny for the treatment of autism. No medication has consistently proven to be of benefit for either curing or comprehensively managing autism in closely controlled clinical trials.
Some medications have been found to help address some symptoms that may present in autism. For example, haloperidol (Haldol), is thought to help treat aggression and methylphenidate has been determined to be helpful in addressing hyperactivity in persons with autism. Risperidone (Risperdal) has been found to be quite helpful in many people whose autistic symptoms include odd, repetitive behaviors (stereotypies), hyperactivity, irritability, throwing tantrums, being aggressive toward others or injuring oneself.
Persons with autism seem to have a higher mortality rate at younger ages compared to average individuals. It is, therefore, important for the autistic population to receive good medical care from practitioners who have knowledge and experience in addressing their unique medical needs.
Psychotherapeutic approaches that have been found to help improve functioning in some persons with autism include comprehensive behavioral therapy to address problematic behaviors. Social skills training and support are important in helping people with autism navigate interactions with others, since many of this population crave social interaction despite their limitations in engaging others socially. Cognitive behavioral treatment in verbal individuals with anxiety and voice output communication who are less verbal are considered promising areas of treatment as well.
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Archived: March 20, 2014
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