There is no “cure” for autism, but treatment can be helpful. Treatment may focus on managing behavior issues. Therapy is another often helpful approach. A therapist may adjust treatments to fit personal needs.
Medication can also help with some symptoms of autism. People may use it for anxiety, obsessions and compulsions, or behavior issues. Medication could also help with seizures related to autism.
Treatment may work better the earlier autism is diagnosed. Medical and mental health professionals can notice signs of autism. They can also explain which treatments may be helpful. If you think your child shows signs of autism, you might look for a child therapist. They can give a diagnosis and find the best treatment for your child.
Therapists can also help with less severe forms of ASD. The condition once known as Asperger's (AS) is one of these. Therapists can help people with AS learn coping strategies and social skills.
Diagnoses of autism have increased in recent years. As a result, treatment for ASD can begin at younger ages. Early treatment has been shown to help people better manage their symptoms.
Treatment can be very effective at an early age. But finding help for autism may still be a challenge. It is important to find a therapist if you think your child could have ASD. A health care professional may be able to help you notice signs of ASD early.
A therapist can help your child learn to manage behavior issues. Children can also learn life skills and coping strategies in therapy. These tools can equip someone with ASD for social interaction. Make sure to find a therapist that understands ASD. They should have experience working with autistic people. Your doctor may refer you to a therapist or counselor with these skills.
People with Asperger’s may have higher level social skills than others with ASD. But AS can still impact a person’s life. Those with Asperger’s can have a difficult time with social norms. This can make it harder for them to fit in or find friends. They may have feelings of isolation or loneliness as a result.
Getting help with Asperger’s can be difficult. People with AS may have social anxiety. This can make them afraid of reaching out for help. Once they are in treatment, they may also have trouble with self-expression. This can make progress in traditional types of therapy harder. The issues for which they want help may often keep them from being able to seek it.
Finding a therapist that has experience with Asperger's is key. These therapists can adapt their approach to suit the needs of the person in therapy. A therapist working with someone with ASD might use more visual information. The person with ASD is then likely to be more engaged. When people are engaged, they are more likely to make progress in therapy. This is no different for people with autism.
Therapy for autism is not always for the person with the diagnosis. ASD can impact the well-being of the whole family. A few ways autism can affect a family include:
- Challenges with communication
- Different sleep patterns
- Bonding difficulties
- Financial problems
- Trouble with routines or behavior
Family therapy helps some families cope with these issues. It may help them address problems as they come up. They may come to better understand the needs of the family member with ASD.
Parents of children with ASD can benefit from couples therapy. They may work on strengthening their own relationship. Parents can also focus on their own resilience. They might choose to build their skills for managing family dynamics.
Group therapy can also be helpful for parents of children with autism. It can connect them with peers who have similar experiences. One study showed that families of children with ASD benefited from group therapy. After the study, they had lower stress levels and felt more empowered.
These therapeutic modes are not always available or an option. In these cases, some try computer-based approaches. Online therapy or computer programs can simulate talk therapy. This can help people with ASD for whom social interaction is difficult. Children with ASD may also use computer-based systems for learning. This approach tailors education to a child's learning style.
Different types of therapy can be helpful for people with autism. Applied behavioral analysis is one approach that is often succesful. Professionals consider age when choosing the right treatment method. They also account for the severity of the case. Personality and treatment availability can also affect which method will work best.
Some mental health and medical issues can co-occur with autism. Therapy can be helpful in addressing the effects of many of these. People with severe autism may need treatment for medical concerns. Therapy could help them cope with these. Adults with other forms of ASD may also seek therapy. Therapy can help them with issues that occur with autism, such as loneliness or anxiety.
- Talk therapy can help people with autism. It is not always the most helpful method. It may not be possible for people severely impacted by autism. Talk therapy may be most useful for higher-functioning adults. It may help children and adults with ASD address social isolation. Children with ASD may learn how to develop their social skills.
- Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is often an effective treatment. It has been used to treat autism since the 1960s. ABA can help children with autism learn social skills. It does not require an understanding of its deeper concepts. In ABA, a therapist will first identify certain behaviors. They use concepts from behaviorism to teach new behaviors.
- Speech therapy: Some people with autism also have a medical condition. A treatment that addresses both autism and the health issue can be helpful. Speech and language pathologists or other specialists can help treat both.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) looks at beliefs people have about themselves. Forms of CBT are adjusted to be more repetitive, visual, and concrete. These can help people with autism process anxiety or other concerns.
- Music therapy includes engaging with music with a therapist. Music could help people with autism relate to their own or others’ emotions.
- Sensory integration: Autism can impact the processing of sensory information. This may lead to sensory overload. Sensory overload can show in behaviors that some may not understand. Sensory integration can people with ASD regulate sensory input. This can make it easier to manage.
- Adolescent boy with autism: David, 12, received his autism diagnosis as an infant. His intellectual skills indicate he has Asperger’s. David wants to sit by his computer all day. He cannot get along with other children at school. Even in a special school, he is isolated from others. David brags often about his supposed intellectual superiority. He has a good, if odd, sense of humor. But he struggles when interacting with other people. His parents bring him to therapy. They hope to “normalize” his behavior “just a little bit." Thanks to David’s fair intelligence and his wish “to stop getting beat up,” his therapist can make progress with him. The therapist helps David understand he can choose to get along with others. David learns others may offer him something enjoyable. He could joke or talk about shared interests with others. David also starts to work on his social skills. He learns about social cues and how to speak appropriately with others. David's therapist also works with his parents. Together, they set realistic goals for him. They continue to work on his social skills at a reasonable pace.
- Autistic middle-aged woman in therapy: Jaycine, 39, is autistic. She lives at home with her aging mother. Jaycine's mother starts to have difficulties handling her dependency. The two enter therapy, but Jaycine cannot participate much. She is almost completely nonverbal. She is not interested in any relationship but the one with her mother, on whom she is dependent. The therapist helps the mother think about her choices. They refer the family to a group home. Jaycine's mother decides it is time for her to move out. The therapist helps Jaycine’s mother work through feelings of guilt and grief once Jaycine leaves for the group home.
- Anderson, C. (2012, August 16). Cognitive behavioral therapy and autism spectrum disorders. Interactive Autism Network (IAN). Retrieved from https://iancommunity.org/cs/simons_simplex_community/cognitive_behavioral_therapy
- Davis, K., & Dubie, M. (n.d.). Sensory integration: Tips to consider. Retrieved from https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/Sensory-Integration-Tips-to-Consider
- Educational and behavioral therapies. (2014, August 18). Retrieved from https://iancommunity.org/cs/what_do_we_know/educational_and_behavioral_therapies
- Minjarez, M. B., Mercier, E. M., Williams, S. E., & Hardan, A. Y. (2013). Impact of pivotal response training group therapy on stress and empowerment in parents of children with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 15(2), 71-78. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1098300712449055
- Murray, D. K. (2011). Autism and Learning (Classic Edition). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Norton, P., & Drew, C. (1994). Autism and potential family stressors. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 22(1), 67-76. doi: 10.1080/01926189408251298
- Solomon, A. H., & Chung, B. (2012). Understanding autism: How family therapists can support parents of children with autism spectrum disorders. Family Process, 51(2), 250-264. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2012.01399.x
- Solomon, M., Ono, M., Timmer, S., & Goodlin-Jones, B. (2008). The effectiveness of parent–child interaction therapy for families of children on the autism spectrum. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(9), 1767-1776. doi: 10.1007/s10803-008-0567-5
- Wolf, L. C., Noh, S., Fisman, S. N., & Speechley, M. (1989). Brief report: Psychological effects of parenting stress on parents of autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19(1), 157-166. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02212727