Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

There are many effective approaches to managing or treating autism. Early intervention with highly structured behavioral, cognitive, and communication therapies can sometimes dramatically help children with autism learn skills. School-based educational programs designed for children with autism can be effective in improving intellectual functioning. However, some children with autism will never be able to communicate or live independently as adults.

Programs that make use of applied behavior analysis (ABA) have become widely accepted as the standard of treatment. In the most effective programs, parents are encouraged to be highly involved in their children's care.

While no medication can eliminate the impairments common to autism, psychoactive drugs including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anticonvulsants are often prescribed to help control specific symptoms.

There are also many alternative treatments promoted to parents of children with autism, such as facilitated communication and auditory integration training, to name a few; many have been shown to be ineffective. It is important for parents of children with autism to look into prospective treatments as thoroughly as possible.

Is there a cure for autism?

Autism cannot be cured with a treatment, intervention, or medication. But various therapies can help many children improve social and communication skills, reduce repetitive behaviors, and function well in daily life.

Assessing the success of treatment is complicated by the diverse experiences of those on the spectrum. Some may have mild social discomfort, embrace routine and stability, or leverage their passion into a career. Others may have an intellectual disability or struggle with violent outbursts. Most fall somewhere in between. The success of treatment can vary with the condition.

How is autism treated?

Autism is often treated with behavioral therapies. The most widely used is called Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), which helps children develop concrete skills to communicate, form relationships, and navigate daily life.

ABA and other behavioral therapies have been shown to improve development and skills, especially when introduced at an early age. Popular variations on ABA include the Early Start Denver Model and Pivotal Response Training. Many children also take social skills training. Behavioral therapies are often accompanied by speech therapy, occupational therapy, or sensory integration therapy.

What is applied behavior analysis?

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the most common treatment for children with autism. ABA teaches children to develop skills for communication, relationships, movement, academics, hygiene, and self-care. For example, children may learn to make eye contact, write their name, or use the bathroom.

ABA centers around understanding the components of a specific behavior—the trigger, the behavior, and the consequence—and rewarding and reinforcing the desired behavior at each step.

How much ABA therapy is recommended?

The program is highly structured and can require 20 or 40 hours of one-on-one therapy per week. ABA begins from a young age and can be tailored to address a child’s individual needs. Today there are variations of ABA with more flexibility, such as the Early Start Denver Model and Pivotal Response Training.

Does everyone in the autism community support ABA?

Beliefs about ABA can be controversial in the autism community. Adults with autism may believe the therapy’s emphasis on suppressing behaviors to “fit in” prevents them from understanding their true selves and being accepted as neurodiverse. Therapists and parents may have witnessed substantial improvements and believe in ABA’s power to improve a child’s life. The severity of someone’s condition is one of the components that informs their perspective.

Why are early interventions so important?

Early interventions can make a big difference for children with autism. Research suggests that the best outcomes of behavior therapy occur more frequently in kids who begin around age three. Addressing challenges at an earlier developmental stage can help children acquire the skills they need to more easily navigate school, relationships, and daily life.

An early diagnosis and treatment plan also provides parents with support earlier, which can alleviate their stress and strengthen their relationship with their child.

Which medications treat autism?

There are no medications that treat the underlying symptoms of autism. However, many medications target related problems and can improve daily life for those on the spectrum.

For example, antipsychotics might be prescribed to treat tantrums, aggression, and self-injury. Stimulants might be prescribed to treat difficulties with attention and hyperactivity. An anticonvulsant may be critical for treating seizures.

Should I medicate my autistic child?

It’s common for parents to struggle with when to consider medication for their children. The choice should be carefully considered, and there may be situations in which the side effects are too harmful. Overall, there are many instances in which the benefits of treating an accompanying problem can outweigh the side effects in the long run.

Can autism be treated in adulthood?

Receiving an autism diagnosis in adulthood is validating and empowering for some individuals. Therapies including applied behavior analysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, and social skills training can still be helpful for adolescents and adults seeking treatment. However, it’s worth noting that treatment studies are primarily conducted on children.

Essential Reads

Recent Posts