What Are Some Treatment Options for Autism?

Explore the myriad of treatment options for autism, from early interventions to tailored therapy plans.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
June 16, 2024
Published On
June 16, 2024

Understanding Autism Treatment

When addressing the question, "What are some treatment options for autism?", it's important to note that treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) focuses on improving the individual's ability to function. Common treatment options may include behavioral, educational, and sometimes medical interventions [1].

Behavioral Interventions

Behavioral interventions are one of the most effective treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). They are based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA), a well-established, evidence-based strategy that encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative ones.

In addition to ABA, other therapeutic options include occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. Occupational therapy, for instance, teaches skills for individuals with ASD to live as independently as possible, including activities like dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people.

Speech and language therapy is another common developmental therapy for individuals with ASD, which helps improve the understanding and use of speech and language. It addresses various communication methods such as verbal communication, signs, gestures, pictures, or electronic communication devices.

Medication Options

When it comes to medical interventions, the Food and Drug Administration has approved risperidone and aripiprazole for treating irritability associated with autism. However, no medication is currently approved for treating autism's core characteristics. These medications can help ease core symptoms by relieving irritability, which may improve sociability and reduce tantrums, aggressive outbursts, and self-injurious behaviors [4].

Off-label medications, including selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine, and naltrexone, have shown benefits in relieving social difficulties and easing repetitive behaviors in some individuals with autism. Nevertheless, determining the effectiveness of these medications for a specific patient with autism or the appropriate dosage can be challenging.

Researchers are testing compounds that may help normalize crucial brain functions involved in autism, offering potential for the development of new medication options. Clinical trials are ongoing for several compounds with different mechanisms of action that have shown promise for clinical use.

In conclusion, understanding the various treatment options for autism, from behavioral interventions to medication options, can help individuals with ASD and their families make informed decisions about managing this condition.

Early Intervention Services

Early intervention services play a crucial role in the overall treatment approach for autism. These services are designed to address the needs of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at an early age, providing them with the necessary support to reach their full potential.

Importance of Early Support

Early, intensive treatment can make a significant difference in the lives of many children with autism spectrum disorder, even though there is no known cure for the condition. By identifying and addressing developmental issues early on, these services can help children develop critical skills and abilities, thereby improving their quality of life.

Children diagnosed with autism can make significant progress in overall function with early support. Some may excel and even remain in regular education classrooms, form meaningful relationships, and achieve a good level of independence as adults [6].

Therapies for Young Children

Early intervention services for young children with autism often include a variety of therapies tailored to their specific needs. These therapies can help children develop a wide range of skills, from communication and social interaction to physical coordination and cognitive abilities.

Common therapies utilized in early intervention services include:

  • Speech-Language Therapy: Helps improve the child's communication skills, including both verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Occupational Therapy: Focuses on improving the child's ability to perform daily activities, such as dressing, eating, and playing.
  • Physical Therapy: Aims to enhance the child's physical coordination and motor skills.

Each child with autism is unique, and therefore, the therapies and interventions provided should be tailored to their specific needs and abilities. It is also important to note that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may have associated medical issues that require further evaluation and treatment, such as seizures, sleep problems, gastrointestinal problems, and behavioral health problems like anxiety, ADHD, irritability, and aggression [6]. These issues should also be addressed as part of the child's overall treatment plan.

The ultimate goal of these early intervention services is to help each child reach their full potential. With the right support, children with autism can lead fulfilling, productive lives. As researchers continue to explore the causes and potential treatments for autism, the importance of early intervention services remains a constant, offering hope and support to children and families affected by ASD.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies are a key component in addressing and managing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These approaches are designed to encourage desired behaviors and discourage undesired ones, helping to improve a variety of skills and maximize functional independence. The following sections will explore three widely accepted behavioral therapies: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech Therapy, and Occupational Therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a well-established, evidence-based behavioral strategy that encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative ones. It is considered one of the most effective interventions for ASD, with a wealth of evidence supporting its efficacy.

ABA therapy uses understanding and techniques from behavioral psychology to enhance communication skills, improve attention, focus on social skills, and decrease problem behaviors. ABA can be applied in different environments, such as the home, school, or community, and can be tailored to meet each individual's needs and goals.

ABA therapy typically involves the following steps:

  1. An individualized assessment to identify specific skills to be learned and behaviors to be modified.
  2. Development of a detailed treatment plan.
  3. Regular one-on-one therapy sessions.
  4. Continuous evaluation and adjustment of the treatment plan based on the individual's progress.

Speech Therapy

Speech Therapy is another common developmental therapy for individuals with ASD. It aims to improve understanding and use of speech and language, addressing various communication methods such as verbal communication, signs, gestures, pictures, or electronic communication devices.

Speech therapists work with the individual to develop communication skills, including articulation, expressive language, receptive language, voice regulation, and fluency. In addition, they can assist with social communication skills and swallowing disorders if they are present.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy focuses on teaching skills for individuals with ASD to live as independently as possible. This includes activities like dressing, eating, bathing, and relating to people.

Occupational therapists help individuals develop these crucial life skills by teaching them to break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps. They also work with individuals to improve motor skills, balance and coordination, and sensory responses.

One approach used within Occupational Therapy is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). This is based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis and is utilized with children aged 12-48 months.

In conclusion, behavioral therapies such as ABA, Speech Therapy, and Occupational Therapy are critical elements in the treatment plan for individuals with ASD. They aim to minimize the impact of ASD's core features and associated deficits, while maximizing functional independence and quality of life.

Medical Interventions

Medical interventions can be an essential part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These interventions, which often include medications and pharmacological treatments, aim to manage the symptoms of autism and improve the quality of life for individuals with the condition.

Medications for Symptom Management

Medications are often used to manage specific symptoms of autism. While there are no FDA-approved medications that directly affect the core features of ASD, some pharmaceutical treatments can help manage behavioral symptoms like irritability, aggression, and self-injurious behavior. The FDA has approved some antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone and aripripazole, for treating irritability associated with ASD in children between certain ages [7].

Some children with ASD might benefit from medications to manage symptoms like anxiety, attention problems, or obsessive-compulsive behaviors [1]. However, all medications carry risks, some of them serious. Therefore, families should work closely with their children's healthcare providers to ensure safe use of any medication for autism [7].

Pharmacological Treatments

More broadly, pharmacological treatments refer to the use of medications to manage the symptoms of autism. These treatments should be prescribed and monitored by a qualified physician, and are usually most effective when used in combination with behavioral therapies.

It's important to note that while some drugs are often used to help improve symptoms of autism, they are not approved by the FDA for this specific purpose. As a result, parents should consult with their child's healthcare providers about any medications for children with autism spectrum disorder [7].

In conclusion, medical interventions, including medications and pharmacological treatments, can play a crucial role in managing the symptoms of autism. However, these interventions should be considered as part of a broader, individualized treatment plan that also includes behavioral therapies and other support services. As always, any decisions regarding treatment should be made in collaboration with a qualified healthcare provider, taking into account the individual's specific needs and circumstances.

Complementary Therapies

While behavioral and medical interventions form the core of autism treatment plans, complementary and alternative therapies can play a supportive role in managing the symptoms of autism. These therapies can provide additional avenues for engagement, communication, and sensory integration. Two such therapies include music therapy and sensory integration therapy.

Music Therapy

Music therapy has shown promising results in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). This form of therapy uses music as a medium to facilitate communication, improve social skills, and manage stress. The rhythmic patterns and melodies in music can provide a predictable and structured environment, which can be comforting to individuals with ASD.

In a music therapy session, a trained therapist may engage the individual in singing, playing musical instruments, or moving to the beat of the music. These activities not only stimulate auditory processing, but can also enhance motor skills and emotional expression.

However, it's important to note that while many individuals with ASD respond positively to music therapy, the effectiveness of this approach may vary depending on the individual's specific needs and preferences. Therefore, it's crucial to consider the person's reaction and engagement in the therapy when evaluating its effectiveness.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is another form of complementary therapy commonly used in individuals with autism. This therapy aims to help individuals with ASD better process and respond to sensory information from their environment, which can often be overwhelming.

In sensory integration therapy, a therapist guides the individual through structured, therapeutic activities that challenge their ability to respond appropriately to sensory input. This might include activities that engage the five senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell), as well as the sense of movement and body awareness.

The goal of sensory integration therapy is to improve the individual's ability to handle sensory stimulation, thereby reducing common ASD symptoms such as sensory sensitivities, motor clumsiness, and social or behavioral challenges. Like music therapy, the effectiveness of sensory integration therapy can vary among individuals with ASD, and should be tailored to the individual's specific needs and responses.

Individualized Treatment Plans

In the quest to answer 'what are some treatment options for autism?', it becomes evident that individualized treatment plans play a crucial role. These plans are designed to cater to each person's unique strengths, needs, and challenges when addressing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Tailoring to Specific Needs

ASD is a complex disorder with a wide range of symptoms and severity. Therefore, the treatments for ASD must be tailored to meet the unique needs of each individual. When developing an individualized treatment plan, specialists such as child psychologists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, developmental pediatricians, and neurologists come together to evaluate cognitive levels, language abilities, and life skills like eating, dressing, and hygiene [9].

The goal is to design a program that addresses the individual's specific needs, builds on their strengths, and helps them overcome their challenges. This could involve a combination of behavioral therapies, medications, and complementary therapies.

Maximizing Functional Independence

Maximizing functional independence and enhancing quality of life are the primary goals of individualized treatment plans for ASD. Early, intensive treatment can make a significant difference in the lives of many children with ASD.

With the right combination of therapies and interventions, children diagnosed with autism can make significant progress in overall function. Some may excel and even remain in regular education classrooms, form meaningful relationships, and achieve a good level of independence as adults.

Autism Speaks is one organization actively increasing its focus on developing new medications for relieving autism's most disabling symptoms. It emphasizes ensuring the safety of promising new medicines and offers resources like the Medication Decision Tool Kit to guide individuals, families, and physicians in finding the most suitable treatment approach based on values and goals.

In summary, individualized treatment plans are integral to autism care. They provide a tailored approach to managing ASD, addressing the unique needs of the individual, and maximizing their potential for functional independence.


[1]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

[2]: https://autismsciencefoundation.org/treatment-options/

[3]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[4]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/medications-autism

[5]: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928

[6]: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/Diagnosing-Autism.aspx

[7]: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments/medication-treatment

[8]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4439475/

[9]: https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/how-do-doctors-diagnose-autism