What treatments are recommended for autism?

There is no treatment that can cure autism. There are several types of therapies and some medications that can help people with autism to improve their daily functioning. Medications are primarily used to help control severe behavior problems, such as aggression, or harming themselves or others. Therapies are vital in treatment and appear to have the most benefit if started early on. One of the most prevalent forms of therapy is called applied behavioral analysis, in which good behavior is reinforced and bad behavior is discouraged. Therapy for children or adults with autism is usually multidisciplinary and involves a team of people including doctors and physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and developmental specialists.
Ronald Leaf

Watch as licensed psychologist and autism specialist Dr. Ronald Leaf discusses how autism should be treated.

Deborah Mulligan
Deborah Mulligan on behalf of MDLIVE
The symptoms of autism spectrum disorders vary from mild peculiarities to severe disabilities. Most doctors now believe that autism is not a distinct disease, but instead is a collection of disorders of brain development.
There is no known cure for autism.  A child with autism will need specialized services aimed at the management of his/her disorder.  Early diagnosis and treatment is important, and may improve the ability of the child with autism to function more effectively in life.  Treatment for autism is usually a very intensive, comprehensive undertaking that involves the child’s entire family and a team of professionals. Some programs may take place in your home. These may be based in your home with professional specialists and trained therapists or may include training for you to serve as a therapist for your child under supervision of a professional. Some programs are delivered in a specialized center, classroom or preschool. It is not unusual for a family to choose to combine more than one treatment method.  The terms “treatment” and “therapy” may be used interchangeably. The word “intervention” may also be used to describe a treatment or therapy. Examples of these treatments are Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or the care of a Neurologist or Gastroenterologist.
If one of your children is diagnosed with autism, there is an increased risk that the same disorder will occur in subsequent children.  Speak with your pediatrician about receiving counseling services to discuss this increased risk.  Visit the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children webpage to learn more.
The Dan Marino Foundation
Treatment and educational needs for people with autism and related disabilities should include:
  1. Early and accurate diagnosis increases the child’s opportunity for positive development and success.
  2. Professional services for persons with autism may include speech and occupational therapy and require a cooperative effort between professionals and families.
  3. Generally, persons with autism seem to make the best progress when they are in as normal a setting as possible and provided with individualized support and therapy to meet their needs.
  4. By implementing treatment methods in all areas of life progress in persons with autism can be optimized. 
Source: Center for Autism & Related Disabilities (CARD)
The primary and first line treatment for autism includes intensive, comprehensive behavioral/educational treatments starting in early childhood (i.e. under age 3) and promote the development of the unique social-communication deficits seen in young children with autism.
Most people agree that therapies for autism require a "team" approach: a pediatrician for general health concerns and a “home base,” a developmental pediatrician or neuropsychologist who specializes in autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), various therapists (occupational, speech, physical, and applied behavior analysis), and school support (an aide or therapist). Some children benefit from a nutritionist, a psychiatrist, or a neurologist, depending on their individual needs. And, of course the parents/guardians play a huge part in care. Applied Behavior Analysis--an individualized approach to analyzing a child's strengths and weaknesses--has been shown to be effective and is a big part of many ASD therapies. This analysis is used to teach the child how to succeed at desired behaviors. You may encounter alternative treatments for ASDs; unfortunately, there are not good studies that prove they are effective, and some alternative treatments may even be detrimental to your child's health. Please check with your pediatrician first!

Educational approaches, such as applied behavioral analysis (or ABA), which has become widely accepted as an effective treatment and is backed up by scientific evidence. Educational approaches are the cornerstone for treating any form of autism, and they include teaching autistic kids, many hours per week, the social, academic, and daily living skills that most children acquire naturally; providing speech, language, and occupational therapy; and generally minimizing the kinds of behaviors that make autistic kids stand out and instilling patterns that help them fit in and function independently.

Sometimes medications help, too, by easing difficult symptoms, especially aggressive or obsessive behavior, or helping to relieve anxiety.

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Early, specialized educational-behavioral interventions are generally recommended for children with autism, with one-on-one therapies for twenty-five hours per week and sometimes more. The best-studied intervention is a very structured, repetitive, and intensive behavioral approach, applied behavioral analysis (ABA), which rewards the child for responding to behavioral goals such as looking toward where their name is being called. Another commonly used intervention is "floor time," which focuses on engaging young children in social interactions. In addition, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) receive speech therapy, which focuses on speech development and conversational language skills; and occupational therapy which often focuses on sensory processing issues. Medication is often used for associated inattention and hyperactivity, aggression and disruptive behavior, anxiety, and sleep disturbances that interfere with function and learning.
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There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. Most health care professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

Educational/behavioral interventions: Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis. Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with ASD often helps families cope with the challenges of living with a child with ASD.

Medications: Doctors may prescribe medications for treatment of specific ASD-related symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Antipsychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems. Seizures can be treated with one or more anticonvulsant drugs. Medications used for attention deficit disorder can help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Other therapies: There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions available for people with ASD, but few, if any, are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution before adopting any unproven treatments. Although dietary interventions have been helpful in some children, parents should follow their child's nutritional status carefully.

This answer is bases on source informatin from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Continue Learning about Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Treatments

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Treatments

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Treatments

There isn't a cure for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which is an umbrella terms for a group of disorders affecting brain development to varying degrees. Early diagnosis and autism treatment can greatly improve the quality of li...

ife for children with autism. Doctors may prescribe medications for treatment of specific ASD-related symptoms, and behavioral and other therapies can help with communication and behavior regulation. Learn more about treating and managing ASD with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.