Various Treatment Approaches for Autism Spectrum Disorder

… because every individual is unique.
“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

The saying not only conveys the extraordinary variation in symptoms (abilities and disabilities) among autistics, but also the variability in how the disorder develops.

There occurs an accelerated expansion of the cortical surface area of the gray matter in the brains of Autism patients. This seems to be associated with impaired maturation of the cortical white matter.

pic courtsey: www.scientificanimations.com

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) isn’t a single condition with a single ‘cause’. It is rather a group of conditions that can arise from a complex combination of several genetic and environmental factors. Asperger’s syndrome is a type of autism in which people do not have learning difficulties but find it difficult to express, feel, understand and socialize.

While some may share certain problems and traits, ASD manifests itself in unique ways in different individuals. And hence, varied kind of support is needed for each.

Early identification of the disorder (during infancy) can be effectively and intensively dealt by individual interventions including behavioral, educational and psychological components. That is why it is crucial to regularly screen toddlers for signs of autism.

Various treatment options include:

Parent Education and Training

Parents, grandparents, siblings, babysitters, etc are fully aware of and understand the strengths and deficits of the child. They are capable of incorporating aspects of social skills training into the child’s life at home, and are hence, best caregivers. However, parents understandably get exhausted by the challenging behavior of their autistic child. An educator or a psychologist can teach them effective ways to modify these challenging behaviors.

Social Skills Training and Speech-Language Therapy

Though children with Asperger Syndrome may have strong language skills, it is important for them to learn how to express themselves appropriately. Social skills groups have proved to be very beneficial to children with AS in teaching them how to interact with their peers. Therapists often use visual techniques such as social stories, or using exercises that involve the children in various social situations to teach social skills to children with AS. Speech and language therapy aids in the correction of awkward speaking styles, and also to better understand and interpret communication signals of others such as humor, eye contact, and hand gestures.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is primarily used to help individuals with AS stabilize their emotions, managing impulse control and, in turn, improve their behavior. The therapy has been proved to reduce anxious and depressed feelings by making changes in thoughts and perceptions of situations through a change in cognition. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be individualized for each patient, and as a result, is very effective at improving very specific behaviors and challenges in each child or young adult.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, has been employed by therapists since long to teach communication, play, social, academic, self-care, work, and community living skills, and to reduce problem behaviors in learners with autism. Over the past several decades, different treatment models using ABA have emerged, all of which use behavioral teaching strategies based on the work of B.F. Skinner. ABA methods use the following three step process to teach every skill:

  1. A verbal or physical stimulus such as a command or request that may come from the surroundings, or be internal to the subject
  2. The subject’s resulting behavior (response/ lack of response)
  3. The consequence of the above behavior- either positive reinforcement of the desired behavior, or no reaction for the incorrect response.

Skills are broken down into manageable pieces and built upon so that a child learns how to learn in a natural environment. Abundant research literature demonstrates that ABA is effective for improving children’s cognitive and language abilities.

Sensory Integration/Occupational Therapy

Issues with sensory and motor skills are common in ASD patients. In sensory integration therapy, therapists work with children to stabilize their senses and their reactions to external stimuli so that the patients gain better control over their bodies. A better control of senses ensures a better control of movements, sounds, and emotions, leading to confidence building.

Pharmacotherapy

There are no specific medications recommended to treat Autism. Though the symptoms of Asperger Syndrome can only be improved through treatments and interventions, it is important to also assess and treat associated conditions such as depression, anxiety, attention problems and hyperactivity as these symptoms can often be debilitating.

There are limited evidences also suggesting that dietary measures may be helpful in some children with autism. Avoidance of foods containing gluten or casein, and supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals have reportedly proved helpful in select cases.

MSSNG, the world’s largest database for autism genetic sequencing, recently discovered an additional 18 genes linked to the development of ASD. These genes are related to the operation of a small subset of pathways in the brain that affect how cells develop and communicate with each other. In hoping to understand more about specific subsets of genes related to Autism, it is hoped that more personalized treatment methods can be developed in the future.

References:

  1. What are the treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?
  2. Autism — Treatment Overview
  3. MSSNG Study expands understanding of AUTISM’S complex genetics.