Autism Treatments

Autism refers to a family of related disorders characterized by unusual, repetitive behaviors, problems communicating, delayed language development, and significant problems with social interaction. It’s common for people with autism to have intellectual disabilities. Autism is diagnosed in childhood, with many people being diagnosed before the age of 4, although the signs of autism can be seen in children as young as 18 months.

There are effective treatments for the symptoms of autism, although the underlying neurological issue cannot be cured. Most of them include training children in behavioral tasks that can be joined together to accomplish larger activities. Without doubt, the earlier a child is introduced to interventions, the better off their outcomes will be. Early intervention is always a key to a better quality of life.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA is based on the principles of behaviorism. ABA uses positive reinforcement for behaviors that are appropriate. When a person demonstrates appropriate behavior or shows they’ve learned a new skill, the therapist gives the person a meaningful reward. Behaviors can be shaped with positive reinforcement and over time, the reinforcement can be lessened.  ABA also uses the Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence model to help students or clients learn new ways to behave. 

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)

DTT, an essential part of applied behavior analysis, breaks down skills into smaller behaviors that can be learned on their own. Parents or trainers teach each individual action to the child, who is reinforced for correctly demonstrating each skill. DTT is one of the most effective methods for teaching children with autism. It was among the first methods developed for teaching people with autism and has a large body of research supporting its effectiveness.

Sensory Integration Therapy

People with autism are far more sensitive to the input from their senses than those without autism. Sights, sounds and even smells can overwhelm them rapidly and cause them to retreat mentally, physically and emotionally. Sensory integration gradually exposes children to very low levels of sensory stimulation, with slow, gradual increments of sensory input as the child adapts.

Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)

ESDM was designed for young children with autism. The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a form of play-based behavioral training. Its goal is to reduce the symptoms of autism while boosting adaptive behaviors.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy refers to helping a child with autism learn to perform his or her own dressing, feeding and bathing. Occupational therapy helps a child with autism to start learning how to live as independently as possible. 

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

People using PECS use cards with pictures on them to communicate with others. By giving the picture to an adult, the child is able to communicate a thought, desire, request or question.


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Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACHH)

TEACHH is an approach to education for people with autism. It’s rooted in the idea that children with autism are visual learners. It has five core principles. First, the individual’s immediate surroundings are marked with clear boundaries.  Next, every day has a consistent schedule. Third, each child has clearly defined expectations. Fourth, every educational activity has a set routine. Finally, cues for directions, instructions and prompts are given visually.visual structure involves visually-based cues for reminders and instruction.

Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)

PRT is another play-based behavioral treatment that  helps develop communication skills, boosts positive social interaction and distracts from self-stimulating behaviors.

Speech Therapy

Trouble with expressive language (speech) is one of the hallmarks of autism. Speech therapy carried out by a speech-language pathologist helps a person with autism develop both verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as increasing comprehension.

Verbal Behavior

Verbal Behavior helps children with autism develop language. Verbal Behavior teaches children to associate asking questions with producing a positive outcome. The goal is to teach the child that interacting with other people will produce the results they’re wanting.

Medication for Autism

The FDA has only approved risperidone as a treatment for autism. It’s been found to be useful in treating aggressive and explosive symptoms of acting out some children with autism display. It can also reduce inattention, hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors common to autism. 

Medical Conditions Associated with Autism

There is no cure for autism. It’s a deeply established neurological condition affected by genetics and the environment. Autism is accompanied by medical conditions that make stabilizing the condition a challenge. Those issues can usually be treated to at least a moderate level of improvement.

It's important to take into account the two-way relationship between autism and psychological disorders. Autism is very isolating, which is scary and can be distressing, especially for children. This distress aggravates any tendencies toward anxiety or depression.

  • Epilepsy. Epilepsy is unfortunately common in people with autism. About 33 percent of people with diagnosed autism have epilepsy.
  • Gastrointestinal problems. Children with autism are 6 times more likely to have GI problems than those without GI issues. There is a complex relationship between the health of intestinal flora, gut health, inflammation and autism, but the extent of that relationship isn’t well-understood yet.
  • Feeding. Seventy percent of children with autism have trouble with eating and eating behaviors. People with autism often have powerful food aversions, which can be due to the taste or even the texture of foods.This aversion makes getting good nutrition a challenge. Pica, or the urge to eat non-food items, is common in children with severe autism. 
  • Sleep disturbances. Fifty percent of children with autism have problems going to sleep or staying asleep. Sleep problems persist into adulthood.
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD affects 7 percent of the general population, but from 30 to 60 percent of people with autism have ADHD.
  • Anxiety, Anxiety affects 50 percent of people with autism, in comparison to 15 percent of the general population.
  • Depression. Depression is common among children and adolescents, with rates of 7 and 26 percent, respectively. Those rates are around 3 times that of the general population.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Some research suggests that OCD is more common in people with autism than the general population, but there’s a lot of overlap between autistic behavior and OCD behavior in some cases.

Autism is a life-long condition, but there are outstanding treatments for its symptoms that improve a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. In seeking treatment, it’s critical to take into account all the individual’s needs, including health, housing and social needs. A holistic approach is always the way to go when treating autism.