There is a range of specialist education and behavioural programmes can be effective in improving the skills of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It can be hard to judge which one will work best for your child as each person with ASD is affected differently. All children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can benefit from early intervention, and some may gain enough skills to be able to attend mainstream school. Research reveals that early intervention in an appropriate educational setting for at least two years prior to the start of school can result in significant improvements for child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. As soon as Autism is diagnosed, early intervention instruction should begin. Effective programmes focus on developing communication, social, academic and cognitive skills.
- Communication Skills – such as the ability to start conversations.
- Social Interaction Skills – such as the ability to understand other people's feelings and respond to them.
- Academic Skills – the normal skills a child needs to progress with their education, such as reading, writing and maths.
- Cognitive Skills – such as encouraging imaginative play.
Treatment for ASD often involves a team of different specialists working together, such as a paediatrician, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a speech and language therapist and an occupational therapist.
Some of the main treatments used for ASD are explained below.
Child may be offered a type of programme called a 'social-communication intervention'. This aims to help them communicate and interact with people and make social situations easier.
Depending on child's age, these programmes may take place at school, or with a parent, carer or teacher.
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) involves breaking down skills (such as communication and cognitive skills) into small tasks and teaching those tasks in a highly structured way, as well as rewarding and reinforcing positive behaviour while discouraging inappropriate behaviour.
ABA sessions are normally carried out at home, although some programmes can be integrated into schools or nurseries.
An ABA programme usually begins with simple tasks that become more complex over time, which can help child's development by gradually improving their skills.
Speech and Language Therapy
Speech and Language therapy (SLT) is a type of skills training designed to improve child's language skills. This can improve their ability to interact with others socially. The therapist uses a number of techniques, such as visual aids, stories and toys to improve communication skills.
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Child with ASD find picture symbols helpful in allowing them to communicate more effectively, which is why an approach called the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is sometimes carried out by trained specialists to help child with the condition.
PECS teaches child to communicate with adults by giving them cards with pictures on them. Over time, the child is taught progressively more difficult skills, such as using pictures to make whole sentences. This approach aims to eventually help child learn to initiate communication with others without prompting.
If the child has ASD and a mental health problem (such as anxiety), or if their behaviour is causing problems, a psychological treatment may be offered. Psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), involve meeting with a therapist to talk about feelings and thoughts and how these affect behaviour and wellbeing.
If a treatment like CBT is offered, the professionals involved in the treatment should also be aware of any changes that need to be made to the treatment because of the ASD. This might include more written or visual information, for example, worksheets and images.
Occupational Therapy (OT)
Occupational Therapy is often used as a treatment for the sensory integration issues associated with ASD. It is also used to help teach life skills that involve fine-motor movements, such as dressing, using utensils, cutting with scissors, and writing. OT works to improve child’s quality of life and ability to participate fully in daily activities. Each occupational therapy program is based on individual evaluations and goals. Occupational therapy for young children with ASD often focuses on improving sensory integration and sensorimotor issues. In older children, OT often focuses on improving social behaviour and increasing independence.
No medication is available to treat the core symptoms of ASD.
But medication may be able to treat some of the related symptoms or conditions, such sleeping problems, depression, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) etc. These medications can have significant side effects and are usually only prescribed by a doctor specialising in the condition being treated. If medication is offered, child will usually have a check-up after a few weeks to see if it is helping.