I am different not less.

– Temple Grandin, professor with ASD (1945-)

Treatment for autism spectrum disorder

Approximately 1 in 48 boys and 1 in 252 girls in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism disorder. The increased incidence of the disorder is only partly explained by improved diagnosis. Although no one knows the cause, the disorder seems linked to genetic, biological, and environmental factors. It is more common in children with other brain disorders, including Down syndrome, epilepsy,  OCD, depression, and ADHD.

Medications to treat autism

There is no cure for autism at this point. Medication targets symptoms and can help with specific problems, thereby improving functioning.

This is not a simple task because children with ASD often do not respond to medications like other children. For example, sleep disturbances are common among children with autism and are linked to daytime behavioral issues. But a 2016 study revealed that children with ASD who received certain sleep medications had worse daytime behavior than children taking no medication. 

Because ASD is a developmental disorder, the goal of treatment is to reduce a child's symptoms and help improve his learning, social, and behavioral skills. Treatment with medication can begin as early as age 3; this involves the use of anti-psychotic medications such as Abilify and Risperdal. Depending on the child, off-label use of other anti-psychotics may be warranted. Other medications used in the treatment of ASD can include anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicines, and anti-convulsants.

Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning some people have mild symptoms while others have severe ones, no two children with ASD will need exactly the same medication regime. It is also extremely important that the child, family, and psychiatrist work closely with each other to ensure the child is not experiencing adverse side effects. This requires regular visits with the psychiatrist for ongoing medication management. The psychiatrist should be advised if parents add any supplements or herbal preparations to a child's treatment, as they interact with medications.

Therapy in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder.

There are a variety of therapies available to help treat autism, including relationship development intervention (RDI), applied behavioral analysis (ABA), pivotal response treatment (PRT), the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), and others. Usually, a psychiatrist is part of the treatment team along with specially trained behavioral therapists, speech therapists, and learning specialists. If your child is newly diagnosed with ASD, you can find help through Autism Speaks and the Autism Response Team, which tries to link the families of those with ASD with appropriate local caregivers.

Types of autism

Asperger's syndrome

People with Asperger's syndrome have milder autism symptoms. They often have eccentric or obsessive interests and they generally lack social skills. However, they do not typically have intellectual disabilities or language difficulties. They may even excel, especially in an area of interest. Children with Asperger's syndrome may avoid eye contact, be uncomfortable in social situations, and miss obvious social cues. They usually dislike change and prefer to follow the same routine, such as eating the same breakfast day after day. They may make repetitive movements and display a flat affect (lack of emotion). Many famous people, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, Daryl Hannah, Susan Boyle, and Dan Akroyd, have been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome.

Pervasive development disorder (atypical autism)

Some people display the social or communication difficulties associated with autism, but to a lesser extent. They also do not fulfill all the criteria for a diagnosis of autism or Asperger's syndrome. Depending on their symptoms, they may be diagnosed with atypical autism, or pervasive developmental disorder. The label is less important than treating the individual and helping him or her to overcome any social and communication challenges.

Autism disorder (classic autism)

People on the autism spectrum display disorders in the development of language and interpersonal skills. Many, but not all, have an intellectual disability. Unusual behaviors, repetitive movements, and obsessive interests are also common. Typically, a child with autism spectrum disorder will not respond to his name by 12 months of age, will avoid eye contact and want to be alone, get upset by minor changes, spin in circles or rock repetitively, and react unusually to sights, sounds, tastes, or smells.

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