Treatment Approaches for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Treatment of autism and related disorders continues to be a challenge for people with the disorder, family members, health professionals, educationalists and policy makers. Efforts to understand and treat the disorder have led to the development of different therapeutic approaches some of which claim for cure. Although biological basis of autism has been recognized and knowledge about the nature of the main characteristics is expanded, there is not a known cure today.

Treatment planning for people with autism and related disorders should be related to the assessment of the individual needs and current level of functioning. Intervention must be related to the full range of impairments and should focus on the long-term vision for the person's potential. Parents are very important during the whole life of the person with autism. Support to the parents and siblings and close collaboration with teachers and professionals reflecting the values and priorities of the family promotes generalization of skills and knowledge in different settings. At the present time research suggests the importance of early intervention tailored to the child's individual strengths and weaknesses in helping the child to develop better social and emotional relationships, learn better communicative skills and decrease the intensity of stereotypic and challenging behaviors. The most powerful source of improvement over the years for children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders has been education. The educational setting must be chosen to be appropriate to the child's needs. There are many different educational programs. Although they have different emphases, they share many common characteristics, such as entry at an early age, structure with clear expectations, developmental appropriateness and using strengths to support gains in weaker areas. Vocational and prevocational training is important for adolescents with autism and related disorders and aims towards socialization and independent or supported employment and living. Behavioral and psychological methods of treatment are very important in promoting communication, social skills and behavior management and drug treatment is useful in some cases. Particular care should be taken in the selection and administration of medications. The usefulness of psychotherapy in autism is very limited. Individual psychotherapy in the form of counseling may be indicated for higher-functioning persons verbally capable of engaging in this type of treatment. Social skills training and teaching of social problem - solving after very careful consideration of the particular strengths and weaknesses of the individual are strongly indicated. Other therapeutic approaches such as auditory integration training, facilitated communication and the 'options' are not effective and not critically assessed. Secretin, an endogenous gastrointestinal polypeptide, is ineffective as a treatment for social and communication handicaps in autism. Language and communication therapy today is focused on methods to increase communication and spontaneous language even in children with severe language deficits rather than on verbally prompted responses cued by the speech therapist. There is no one treatment effective for everyone. Some treatments may be more effective than others in improving communication, social and interpersonal skills. A growing body of research suggests that intensive, sustained treatment based on individualized plan with immediate and long-term objectives appropriate to the chronological age and developmental level of the person is important in improving the long-term outcome of people with autism and related disorders.

Key words: ┴utism, psychological therapies, education, early intervention, drug therapy.