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Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders

The following treatment guidelines are meant as a reference tool only, and are not intended as treatment advice or to replace the clinical decision-making process of psychiatrists or other health professionals who administer these treatments. In clinical practice there are often good reasons why treatment approaches differ from what is described here.

 

Currently, no cure for Autism Spectrum Disorders exist. The treatments that are now available have as their goals to ameliorate the core symptoms and deficits of this condition, improve the quality of life and independence of these individuals, and ease family distress.

The main treatments are educational interventions. Medications do not target the core symptoms and are not the primary treatment, but can be helpful for treating associated psychiatric conditions and symptoms.

Educational Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Educational interventions are structured learning programs designed to teach individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders many of the skills that they typically lack as a result of their condition, including communication skills, social skills, the ability to manage activities of daily living independently, academic skills, and the ability to enjoy and participate in play and leisure activities. Addressing emotional and behavioral problems is also a key goal of these interventions.

There are different types of educational programs based on different schools of thought (see here for further details), but most of them share the following common features:

  • The programs should begin as early as possible in life, preferably in early childhood. Early detection of Autism Spectrum Disorders is thus essential.
  • The programs offer intensive interventions, at least 25 hours per week, 12 months per year, often for several years.
  • They maintain a low teacher-to-student ratio to allow for addressing specific individual needs.
  • They tend to make use of behavioral strategies to reinforce positive behaviors and reduce negative ones in the students.
  • They often include a family component, where parents join in the educational interventions and also receive training so that they can use similar interventions in the home.
  • The programs tend to maintain a high degree of structure with predictable routines, visual activity schedules, and clear visible boundaries to minimize distractions.

Medications that can be of help in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Medications can be used in Autism Spectrum Disorders only when certain kinds of symptoms become apparent that could be causing distress. Many of these symptoms are not part of the core features of Autism, but are nevertheless situations that occur not infrequently.

As a general rule, psychiatric medications should always be started at very low doses (usually below the normal starting dose) for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders [ref].

The following symptom categories can be used as a way to guide medication treatment [ref]:

 

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