Autism Treatments: What Works, What Doesn’t
The lowdown on common treatments for autism
When a child is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), what parent isn’t willing to do whatever it takes to provide the best treatment possible? But let’s face it, from behavior intervention programs to medication use, the number and types of autism treatments available can seem overwhelming—and very confusing. So, in an attempt to help families and doctors separate the “wheat from the chaff” of ASD treatments, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is providing detailed, scientific reviews of a handful of popular ASD interventions for children ages 12 and younger.
Researchers provided feedback on the effectiveness of certain autism treatments, including:
- Antipsychotic Medications: Researchers found strikingly little evidence of benefit for most medications used to treat ASD, except for drugs that address challenging behavior. For example, children who used an antipsychotic medication, such as risperidone and aripiprazole, showed improvements in challenging behavior, hyperactivity, and repetitive behavior. However, both medications were also shown to cause significant side effects, including weight gain and sedation.
- Antidepressants and Stimulants: Researchers found that not enough evidence was available to judge the effectiveness of certain other medications used to treat autism, including serotonin-reuptake inhibitors and stimulant medications. Bottom line with this treatment, it might work for some children, but is still a matter of trial and error.
- Secretin: This gastrointestinal medication used to treat peptic ulcers is sometimes recommended as an ASD treatment, but researchers found strong evidence that secretin is not effective for children with autism.
- Behavioral and Developmental Interventions: After looking at 34 studies of early intensive interventions programs for young children with ASDs, researchers notice that kids in intensive programs that combined specific behavioral and developmental principles were most likely to see improved cognitive performance, language skills, and adaptive behavior skills. However, before making any official recommendations, researchers would like more information about which interventions are most likely to benefit specific children.
Feedback from the AAP makes it clear that a behavioral/developmental approach to ASD may offer children the most benefits, and fewest drawbacks. But just not sure how to find one of these programs for your child? Ask your pediatrician, or local autism advocacy group, if a program currently exists in your community (many times offered through a research hospital or college). If nothing is currently available, work with your pediatrician to create your own program by getting the appropriate referrals to speech, occupational, and child behavioral therapists in your area. It can also help to contact your local school district’s special education department for help with this.
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