What is the Best Treatment for High-Functioning Autism?

“What kind of treatment has had the best outcome for children with autism - high functioning? I’m new to the world of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and I want the best for my child.”

The type of treatment that will have the best outcome varies from child to child depending on his or her symptoms and level of functioning. The most important factor is early intervention. Research shows that early intervention treatment can greatly improve a youngster’s development. Early intervention services help kids from birth to 3-years-old learn important skills.  Services include therapy to help the youngster talk, walk, and interact with others.  Therefore, it is important for parents to talk to their youngster’s doctor as soon as possible if they think their son or daughter has Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism (HFA).

Even if the youngster has not been diagnosed with the disorder, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) says that kids under the age of 36 months who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.

In addition, treatment for particular symptoms (e.g., speech therapy for language delays) often does not need to wait for a formal diagnosis. While early intervention is extremely important, intervention at any age can be helpful.

There are many different types of treatments available:
  • anti-yeast therapy
  • auditory training
  • discrete trial training
  • facilitated communication
  • music therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • physical therapy
  • sensory integration therapy
  • vitamin therapy

The different types of treatments can generally be broken down into the following categories:
  • Medication
  • Dietary Approaches 
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine
  • Behavior and Communication Approaches
According to reports by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Research Council, behavior and communication approaches that help kids with ASD are those that provide structure, direction, and organization for the youngster in addition to family participation.

A notable treatment approach for children on the autism spectrum is called applied behavior analysis (ABA). ABA has become widely accepted among doctors and used in many schools and treatment clinics. ABA encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills.  The youngster’s progress is tracked and measured.

There are different types of ABA.  Following are some examples:

1. Verbal Behavior Intervention (VBI): VBI is a type of ABA that focuses on teaching verbal skills.

2. Pivotal Response Training (PRT): PRT aims to increase a youngster’s motivation to learn, monitor his own behavior, and initiate communication with others. Positive changes in these behaviors should have widespread effects on other behaviors.

3. Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI): This is a type of ABA for very young kids with HFA, usually younger than five, and often younger than three.

4. Discrete Trial Training (DTT): DTT is a style of teaching that uses a series of trials to teach each step of a desired behavior or response. Lessons are broken down into their simplest parts and positive reinforcement is used to reward correct answers and behaviors.  Incorrect answers are ignored.

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

Other therapies that can be part of a complete treatment program for a youngster with HFA and Aspergers include:

1. Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Kids (TEACCH): TEAACH uses visual cues to teach skills. For example, picture cards can help teach a youngster how to get dressed by breaking information down into small steps.

2. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS): PECS uses picture symbols to teach communication skills. The person is taught to use picture symbols to ask and answer questions and have a conversation.

3. Speech Therapy: Speech therapy helps to improve the person’s communication skills.  Some children are able to learn verbal communication skills.  For others, using gestures or picture boards is more realistic.

4. Sensory Integration Therapy: Sensory integration therapy helps the person deal with sensory information, like sights, sounds, and smells. Sensory integration therapy could help a youngster who is bothered by certain sounds or does not like to be touched.

5. Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy teaches skills that help the person live as independently as possible.  Skills might include dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to children.

6. Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR; also called "Floortime"): Floortime focuses on emotional and relational development (feelings, relationships with caregivers). It also focuses on how the youngster deals with sights, sounds, and smells.

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism
Some dietary treatments have been developed by reliable therapists.  But many of these treatments do not have the scientific support needed for widespread recommendation. An unproven treatment might help one youngster, but may not help another.

Many biomedical interventions call for changes in diet. Such changes include removing certain types of foods from a youngster’s diet and using vitamin or mineral supplements. Dietary treatments are based on the idea that food allergies or lack of vitamins and minerals cause symptoms of HFA and Aspergers.  Some moms and dads feel that dietary changes make a difference in how their youngster acts or feels.

If you are thinking about changing your youngster’s diet, talk to the doctor first. Or talk with a nutritionist to be sure your youngster is getting important vitamins and minerals.

Although there are no medications that can cure Aspergers or High-Functioning Autism - or treat the core symptoms, there are some that can help children with the disorder to function better (e.g., help managing high energy levels, inability to focus, depression, seizures, etc.). Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of risperidone and aripiprazole (antipsychotic drugs) to treat kids on the spectrum who experience severe tantrums, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors.

Medications might not affect all kids in the same way. It is important to work with a doctor who has experience in treating kids with HFA and Aspergers. Moms and dads and doctors must closely monitor a youngster's progress and reactions while he or she is taking a medication to be sure that any negative side effects of the treatment do not outweigh the benefits.
It is also important to remember that kids on the spectrum can get sick or injured just like kids without the disorder. Regular medical and dental exams should be part of a youngster’s treatment plan. Often it is hard to tell if a youngster’s behavior is related to the disorder or is caused by a separate health condition. For example, head-banging could be a symptom of the HFA, or it could be a sign that the youngster is having headaches. In those cases, a thorough physical exam is needed. Monitoring healthy development includes paying attention to symptoms related to the disorder as well as the youngster’s physical and mental health.

To relieve the symptoms of HFA and Aspergers, some moms and dads and doctors use treatments that are outside of what is typically recommended by the doctor. These types of treatments are known as complementary and alternative treatments (CAM). They might include special diets, chelation (i.e., a treatment to remove heavy metals like lead from the body), biologicals (e.g., secretin), or body-based systems (e.g., deep pressure). These types of treatments are very controversial. Current research shows that as many as one third of moms and dads with autistic kids may have tried complementary or alternative medicine treatments, and up to 10% may be using a potentially dangerous treatment. Before starting such a treatment, check it out carefully, and talk to your youngster’s doctor.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:
==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

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