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How Are Kids With Autism Treated?

by Amber Keefer, studioD

Although no cure exists for autism, medical doctors can treat autism’s symptoms. Like any other child, a child with autism is a unique individual who may require a treatment approach to addresses his specific needs. Treatment programs focus on areas that an autistic child lacks, such as language and communication skills, social skills or motor skills. Individuals who receive intensive early-intervention therapies generally show long-term improvement in symptoms, according to Autism Speaks.

Early Intervention

Studies indicate that early intervention therapies, which help a child communicate and interact with others, can play a significant role toward improving a child’s development, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With grants from the federal government, states provide early-intervention programs to children younger than 36 months who are at risk for developmental delays. Although not all children in these programs have the same outcome, they benefit in some way. Effective programs typically offer structured, therapeutic activities for a minimum of 25 hours a week. These therapeutic activities include behavioral, social, speech and other developmental therapies, according to KidsHealth. Therapists, teachers and trained paraprofessionals provide the services.

Behavioral and Language Interventions

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a treatment approach that teaches appropriate behaviors and social responses to children with autism. Therapists, teachers and parents reinforce appropriate behaviors when they reward a child for positive behaviors and when they remove triggers that lead to inappropriate behaviors. This approach requires that a therapist or teacher observe a child’s behavior to identify his triggers. Children younger than 5 years old receive this intensive behavioral intervention from professionals who deliver these services in the home, at the child’s preschool or in a child-development center. Speech and language therapy also helps improve a child’s communication and social skills. Although most children with autism are able to speak, many have problems using language effectively, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


Health care professionals often prescribe medication for a child with autism to help manage the child’s symptoms. Doctors may prescribe medication to manage hyperactivity, or they may prescribe antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, or antipsychotic drugs for autistic children with severe behavioral problems, such as aggression or self-injurious behavior, according to MayoClinic.com. Children on the autism spectrum who have trouble sleeping may benefit from taking melatonin before bed. Although research indicates that melatonin is safe and effective for children, speak with your child’s doctor before giving her any over-the-counter medications. Gastrointestinal problems, a medical condition also common in children with autism, may require treatment with antacids, histamine-2 blockers or protein-pump inhibitors to relieve symptoms.

Dietary Changes

Scientific evidence generally does not support dietary approaches such as gluten-free and casein-free diets when treating children with autism. Some parents have reported that although their children benefit from special diets, other parents report that other children show no changes in behavior. Most dietary changes involve removing certain food groups from the child’s diet and giving him vitamin or mineral supplements. Since some restricted diets and nutritional supplements can be dangerous to your child’s health, speak to your child’s pediatrician, a registered dietitian or nutritionist knowledgeable about autism, and associated health problems before changing his diet.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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