There are many therapies available for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders. There are a few scientifically evidence-based treatments that range from playtime to medications. However, the majority of treatments are popular and controversial, which means there is little to no scientific evidence to conclude success or failure. Each treatment should be discussed with your family and doctor so as to choose the best route for therapy.
Floortime therapy encourages parents to get to their child’s level. Autism Speaks suggests that this type of therapy aims to engage children in activities they enjoy. Floortime is usually a child-lead therapy where the parent and therapist interact with the child in their favorite games. Therapists teach parents “opening and closing circles of communication” in which a parent leads their child through more and more complex interactions.
Floortime aims to increase several developmental milestones:
- Self-regulation and interest in the world
- Two-way communication
- Emotional ideas and thinking
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
According to Talk About Curing Autism, the picture exchange communication system is a therapy used in helping non-verbal children with or without autism. Pictures are used to assist the child in communicating their needs. When their needs are easily understood, certain behaviors can decrease. Pictures of foods, places, and people are usually introduced first and, eventually become pictures of complex sentences. You can use a digital camera or use cartoon images and laminate them to make the cards durable.
For more information, visit:
- Autism Resource Foundation: Autism and PECS
- National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders: PECS steps
Social Stories are individualized short stories intended to help children and adolescents with autism disorders in understanding social situations by describing and explaining appropriate behavior and giving examples of appropriate responses, as stated by an abstract at Arees University. There are several sentence types:
- Descriptive sentences
- Perspective sentences
- Directive sentences
- Control Sentences
- Affirmative sentences
- Cooperative sentences
Social Stories are used for a wide range of social disorders in children and adolescents. This aids in making future situations more predictable and less overwhelming for them.
This type of therapy is commonly called Cognitive Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Rush University Medical Center describes behavioral therapy as a treatment for beliefs and assumptions developed from previous experiences. The strategies used include recognizing the connection between automatic thoughts, emotions, and behavior; and replacing dysfunctional beliefs with more rational and adaptive ideas, as well as learning new tools for dealing with stressful situations. Behavioral therapies are not only used to treat autism, but a wide range of mental disorders.
For more information, visit Emory University: Behavioral therapy effective against pica in children with autism spectrum disorder.
Music therapy is also used to treat autism spectrum disorders. Everyone responds to the aspects of music in daily life. The three areas that the The American Music Therapy Association focuses on are awareness and recognition, training and professional development, and evidence-based practice and research. Music therapy includes singing, vocalization, dancing, musical improvisation, songwriting, or listening to music.
To see a clinical trial on music therapy for those suffering from autism, please see this report at Cochrane.
Auditory Integration Training (AIT)
Auditory Integration Training is referred to as a controversial therapy, which means the therapy is popular but has no scientific evidence to back up its results or processes. AIT involves identifying sound frequencies that the patient is believed to be over- or under-sensitive to. The University of Rochester Medical Center states that AIT providers filter these frequencies partially or completely from a piece of music. The patient with autism wears headphones to listen to the filtered music in 1-3 hour sessions. AIT is known to have mixed results, and it is unclear whether AIT providers can reliably identify these sounds or whether listening to filtered music is appropriate for correcting over- or under-sensitivity to sounds.
If you are interested in reading more about AIT and its results on individuals with autism, please visit this article at Department of Allied Health Sciences at UNC School of Medical. You can also go to AIT Institute: AIT therapy for autism.
The Son-Rise Program
The Autism Treatment Center describes its program as an alternative treatment for autism. The program’s theory is “children show us the way in, and then we show them the way out.” It also promotes parents and guardians to enter their children’s world in order to understand how autism is affecting them. The program is geared towards the home environment and using parents as the child’s teacher and therapist (as well as qualified therapists to implement the program in their office). Parents are encouraged to join in a child’s repetitive and ritualistic behaviors, teaching children through interactive play, and using energy, excitement, and enthusiasm to engage children with autism to promote learning.
To learn more, visit:
- Autism Help: Intervention with the son-rise program
- Pecan valley Centers: Interview with the creator of the son-rise program
Dolphin Assisted Therapy
Animals have been used as a therapy option for quite some time. Like service dogs, dolphins have also been recruited in autism therapy. Operation Autism Online gives some pros and cons of using dolphins as an autism therapy. They state that those affected with autism love the sensation of water, and this provides a new sensory experience of how the water and dolphin move about them. Also, animals are known to be a step towards socializing treatment for those suffering from social disorders.
However, this is a controversial therapy as there is no scientific evidence to prove that dolphins treat or cure autism. It is best used as a supplement to traditional long-term treatment options.
For more information, go to:
- Minnesota State University: Dolphin assisted therapy: Claim vs. evidence
- Whales and Dolphins Conservation: Case against dolphin assisted therapy
A personal report at the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virgina describes biomedical therapy as based on the belief that autism is treatable through a well-constructed diet, such as gluten-free or casein-free, and craniosacral therapy. The goal is to restore the body and brain back to health so an individual’s level of functioning can improve.
Some diets include gluten-free and casein-free diets (GFCF). Most big-name stores have specially labeled food for this diet. Other diets include the specific carbohydrate diet, low oxalate diet, the body ecology diet, and Feingold diet.
Another biomedical therapy that can be used is hyperbaric oxygen to treat inflammation in the brain. Children and a parent are placed in a tank where the child breaths 100 percent pure oxygen at greater than atmospheric pressure.
For more information, visit:
- Seattle Children’s Hospital: Choosing a biomedical therapy and autism
- Focus for Health: Biomedical treatment of autism
Secretin Hormone Therapy
Hormone therapy is also a treatment option for those living with autism. According to the The Henry Spink Foundation, secretin is a hormone that is naturally present in the body. While this treatment was used to diagnose digestive issues, only recently has it been used as a therapy for autism. Secretin is usually given intravenously, but it can also be received through the skin. Some parents of children with autism claim it improves eye contact, awareness, sociability, speech and sleep patterns, attention span, and increased capacity to learn. This therapy is also listed as controversial due to the lack of evidence that it works.
To learn more, visit:
- Science and Medicine: Secretin and autism: A clue but not a cure
- University of Virginia: Autism and secretin
Vitamins have also been touted as a valid treatment for autism. Certain vitamins are used in controlled dosages to treat autism in children. Vitamin therapy has been a choice to treat autism instead of conventional drugs because they tend to be safer and have proven to just as effective in some cases. A study posted on Bridges 4 Kids showed success in ingesting B6 and magnesium to treat autism. The study, conducted on 200 autistic children in the US and Canada, showed that B6 and magnesium improved certain factors of autism.
To learn more, visit Academia: Vitamin D status in autism spectrum disorders.
Many believe that autism and nutrition are closely linked. Not only does proper nutrition provide for a healthy body overall, but it has also been suggested that certain nutritional diets can be used to treat autism. Food For The Brain demonstrates the various ways a good nutritional diet can be helpful in regards to autism. The nutritional therapy can aid with improved digestion, balancing blood sugar, increasing omega 3 fats, increasing vitamins and minerals, and avoiding food allergies.
If you are interested in learning more about how nutritional therapy can help with autism, please refer to Eat Right.
Autism can prevent an individual from properly studying and learning. Individual Educational Programs are meant for those with developmental delays, such as autism. Kids Health says that an IEP can greatly improve an individual’s learning capacity by being tailored specifically to their needs and levels. Most Individual Educational Programs are done in a standard school environment, whether in a classroom or a special classroom with a group of children with similar needs.
For more information, go to:
- Great Schools: IEP for autism
- University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities: IEP considerations for students with autism
For more information on autism and the therapies used to treat symptoms, please check out the links below.
Autism Therapies has a great page on treatments for autism.
The CDC also offers information: Autism treatments.
Medline Plus discusses autism more in depth: Autism spectrum disorder.