Perhaps one of the more overwhelming things after receiving Sweet B’s diagnosis, was figuring out the best possible ways to help her. At the time, she was already receiving special education services, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy at home. But, it was also evident that she needed more support. As her mom, of course, I felt that I was more than qualified to help her in whatever way possible but I also realized that I was limited in my abilities. That’s not to say that I couldn’t have learned or that I couldn’t have prepared the type of environment that she needed. But what she needed was also beyond my own ability to provide. So it was at that time that I started looking into various autism treatment options. I wasn’t naive enough to think that this would lead me to finding some sort of magical cure, however I was open minded enough to consider almost anything that could help or benefit her.
A Brief History of Autism Treatment Options
The recorded history of autism is really very short which is quite surprising when you think of how prevelant it is in today’s society.
The term autism was first coined by Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, in 1911 to apply to adult schizophrenia. It took about 30 more years for autism to be defined as, more or less, what we refer to today. In 1943, Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins University used the term to describe his 5-year long observations of 11 children who had started to withdraw from human contact at around 1 year old.
Interestingly enough, at around the same time, a scientist in Germany named Hans Asperger identified the similar condition that we now know as Asperger’s Syndrome.
After Kanner and Asperger’s discovery, parents were believed to treat their autistic children without the “normal” warmth and affection that parents give their children.
As we continue on throught the history of autism, for more than 2 decades (through the 60’s), anyone who was diagnosed with the disorder was believed to be schizophrenic. And the general lack of understanding of the autism caused many parents to believe that they were at fault in some way.
A Freudian theory had become popular: if certain basic psychological bonds between parent and child fail to form, then the child will fail to progress. This theory of autism remained in vogue in the 50s and early 60s despite the fact that there were two obvious alternative possible explanations that the Freudian theory ignored altogether: firstly, the so-called witnessing of parents who had insufficient interaction with their child was most likely the result of the child’s Autistic behavior and not the cause of it and secondly, the fact that Autism was an extreme case of an inherited personality trait that was present to a much milder degree in these observed parents.
During this time, some children were taken from their parents and put in foster care to see if this would allow them to “recover” – obviously, you can probably guess from what you know today that this was not an effective strategy. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the medical community began to understand autism a little bit more and finally identify certain symptoms and treatments for the disorder.
Sadly, from the 1960’s through the 1970’s, experimental treatments for autism included medications like LSD and electric shock as well as pain and punishment to induce changes in behavior. It seems barbaric, but this was being practiced less than 50 years ago – we’ve come a long way since then.
Finally, during the 1980s and 1990s, non-violent behavior therapy and the use of extremely controlled learning environments came about to be the principle treatments for autism and autism-related conditions.
Today, the present-day history of autism, the real cornerstone of autism therapy is behavior therapy and other treatments are added depending on the needs and severity of the individual’s disorder.
Common Autism Treatment Options
When diagnosed with autism, the individual can benefit from many of the different treatment programs and educational programs available.
While there is no special drug to cure the symptoms, professionals, as well as parents, have found that some drugs that are often used for other disorders will help to alleviate some of the behavioral symptoms of autism.
For example, Serotonin re-uptake inhibitors have been used to help treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anxiety. Through research it is found that there are elevated levels of serotonin in as many as one-third of those diagnosed with autism. Drugs such as Anafranil, Lenox, and Prozac may be able to reverse some of the symptoms of having high levels of serotonin, such as repetitive behaviors, irritability, and aggressive behavior. Some researchers found that autistic children may show increased eye contact and may become more responsive to others when taking these drugs.
Your child’s physician may recommend other drugs, such as Ritalin, to help treat your child’s symptoms. The main issue in treating the symptoms of autism with drugs is the side effects that may come along with certain medications. As with any medication being taken, you want to fully inform your child’s physician about any side effects you may notice. It should also be stated that because children with autism may have a higher sensitivity to drugs, the dosages should be adjusted accordingly.
Many parents of autistic children and professionals feel that adjusting the child’s diet and adding vitamins will help to treat the symptoms associated with autism. Research has proven that taking an increased amount of Vitamin C will help reduce the severity of symptoms, while others have shown that vitamin B and magnesium will help with the behavioral problems, improve their eye contact, and improve the autistic child’s ability to pay attention. Professionals feel that due to malabsorption problems in those with autism, nutritional deficiencies may have an effect on how severe the symptoms are.
Before starting your child on a vitamin program, your child’s physician should do an assessment of nutrition. This will help them to find out what your child is missing in vitamins and minerals to help to determine what they need and how it may help them.
Individuals that have been diagnosed with autism sometimes may have sensitivity to certain foods, as well. Some of these may also contribute to certain behaviors. There are times that when certain substances are taken from the child’s diet, it will alleviate some of these behaviors. One example of this is gluten. Researchers have found that if an autistic child has trouble breaking down the peptides of foods containing gluten and casein, found in diary products, wheat, oats, and rye, this may cause an upset of the biochemical and neurological processes of the brain. By removing these foods from the diet, it can reduce some of the autistic symptoms.
Due to the wide range of communication and behavioral symptoms that are associated with autism, there are a wide variety of behavioral treatments for individuals with autism. Many of these behavioral treatments for children with autism are based on the Applied Behavior Analysis. This theory focuses on rewarding good behavior.
The main thing to consider in choosing a behavioral treatment program for your autistic child is to understand their learning style. If your child is more visual, you may want to make sure the program is set up to assist your child in the way he or she learns best.
These are only a few of the treatments available for individuals diagnosed with autism.
Because autism is unique in the sense that the symptoms vary according to the extent and severity, you and your child’s physician will need to find a treatment program that works best for them. There are a lot of programs available for your child however, one program may be wrong for one child and perfect for another. Before starting your child in any program, seek the advice from your physician. He or she can test and assess your child to find out which treatments may help to alleviate some of your child’s autism symptoms.
It is because of the vast multitude of therapies that many parents opt for combination treatments. An estimated 30% of parents try special diets, non-traditional methods, or vitamin treatments. Music, vision therapy treatments, yoga and horseback riding are also used to treat autism. Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict which children will benefit from a program or whether there is light at the end of that particular tunnel at all.
A lot of this will be trial and error and at this stage, a support group or at least knowing a parent who has been there is invaluable. The caveat, of course, is that because autism is a spectrum disorder; what works for one child will not always work for another child. Sweet B, for example, benefited greatly from ABA while some children will not benefit from it all or will need something else like Floor Time.
Talk to other parents, find forums or support groups on Facebook- you can also e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to talk to you about the process that I went through when it came to finding the right mix of treatment options for Sweet B. A lot of it is standard, yes: Occupational therapy, speech therapy, music therapy, and ABA with plenty of sensory input. And it hasn’t changed a lot since she was initially diagnosed. In fact, the main thing that has changed was that she stopped receiving physical therapy and her music therapy also changed. But again, this is what is working for her. It may not work for your child or your child may need a different set of frequencies.
It really does depend when it comes to autism treatment options but eventually you’ll hopefully find something that works for your child.