How is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) treated?

Updated: Sep 30, 2019
  • Author: James Robert Brasic, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Individual intensive interventions, including behavioral, educational, and psychological components, are the most effective treatments of autistic disorder. Beginning the treatment early in infancy increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome. Thus, regular screening of infants and toddlers for symptoms and signs of autistic disorder is crucial because it allows for early identification of these patients.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder and unspecified pervasive developmental disorder typically benefit from behaviorally oriented therapeutic programs developed specifically for this population. Autistic children should be placed in these specialized programs as soon as the diagnosis is entertained.

Parents, teachers, pediatricians, and other health care providers are advised to seek the assistance of people who are familiar with early intervention programs for children with autistic disorder. The Autism Society can help parents to obtain appropriate referrals for optimal interventions.

Parents understandably become exhausted by the relentless performance of challenging behaviors by their child with autism. A specially trained educator or behavioral psychologist can help to teach them effective ways to modify these challenging behaviors. Parents also frequently benefit from temporary respite from the child.

The possible benefits from pharmacotherapy must be balanced against the likely adverse effects on a case-by-case basis. In particular, venlafaxine may increase high-intensity aggression in some adolescents with autism. [9]

Limited, largely anecdotal evidence suggests that dietary measures may be helpful in some children with autism. Avoidance of certain foods, notably those containing gluten or casein, and supplementation with specific vitamins and minerals have reportedly proved helpful in select cases.

The National Autism Center has initiated the National Standards Project, which has the goal of establishing a set of evidence-based standards for educational and behavioral interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders. The project has identified established, emerging, and unestablished treatments. Early identification of children with ASD followed by prompt institution of intensive interventions [144] facilitates optimal outcomes. [145]

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