There are many questions about the initial cause of autism which is yet to be determined. Since there is no
root cause, then there is no cure for autism. There are, however, several intervention options available
(pharmaceutical and biomedical, therapeutic, and educational) that can be, to varying degrees, controversial.
It is widely acknowledge by professionals that some form of intensive educational interventions should be at
basis of any treatment program, regardless of any choice to use, therapies options are highly beneficial.
An early, intensive, appropriate treatment program will significantly improve the outlook for most young
children with autism. Most therapies will build on the interests of the child in an exceptionally structured
schedule of helpful activities. Treatment is most successful when focused toward the child's particular
needs. An experienced specialist or team should design the individualized program. A variety of effective
therapies are available, including applied behavior analysis (ABA), speech-language therapy, medications,
occupational therapy, and physical therapy, and a behavioral consultation. Sensory integration and vision
therapy are also common, but there is little research supporting their effectiveness. The best treatment plan
may use a combination of techniques.
Once a diagnosis is concluded it will be important to begin to identify needed services and resources. Each
child with ASD is different and each family will have different needs. There is no single best treatment
package for all children with ASD. One aspect most professionals agree on is that early intervention is
important; another is that most individuals with ASD respond well to highly structured, specialized
programs. Before you make decisions on your child's treatment, you will want to gather information about
the various options available. Learn as much as you can, look at all the options, and make your decision on
your child's treatment based on your child's needs. You may want to visit public schools in your area to see
the programs they offer special needs children.
Dr. Stanley Greenspan is the most well known supporter of this intervention strategy. Floor Time is an
integrated model that is centered on the child and involves sensory and motor planning play, and focuses on
emotional development rather than cognitive or behavioral development. There is not much research to
support its sole use, though many programs include its principles in combination with others, especially with
This therapeutic approach seeks to improve developmental skills through analysis and intervention in six
areas of functioning. The first area has to do with a child's ability to manage his or her attention and
behavior while being presented with a full range of sensations. The second area involves the child's ability to
maintain quality and stability of engagement in relationships. Third is a child's ability to enter into two-way,
purposeful exchange. At its most basic level, this program involves helping the child open and close circles
of communication. The fourth area involves stringing together many circles of communication into larger
patterns, while the fifth level deals with the child's ability to create mental representations or emotional
symbols through engagement in pretend play and emotional intention. Finally, the last level works on the
ability to build bridges or make connections between different internal representations or emotional ideas (e.
g., "I am mad because you are mean.”) This capacity is a foundation of higher-level thinking, problem
solving and such abilities as separating reality from fantasy, modifying impulses and mood, and learning how
to concentrate and plan, which are extremely important skills needed for independence.
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
PECS- Picture Exchange Communication System is used mostly with children who have limited or no
speech. PECS is a communication training system developed for autistic students ages 2 through 21 years,
although it can be used if needed throughout the remainder of the lifespan. Its basis is applied behavior
analysis and discrete trial teaching. This is an approach that is usually used in combination with others.
Individuals using PECS are required to give a picture of a preferred item to a communicative partner in
exchange for the item. The initial communicative behavior aim is focused on requesting. In the request,
preferred items are presented as achievements for the response. This training is designed to take place in a
social context. Teaching students to request is a useful skill, and often facilitates the teaching of other
Two therapists are initially required so that one sits behind the child and physically prompts him/her to give a
picture in exchange for the item. Physical prompts are quickly faded in order to ensure independent
communication. Once the request with pictures is firmly established, the child is then encouraged to
verbalize the request based upon the premise that when children learn that they can get their needs met by
communicating them to the people around them (“I want juice” = getting juice) they will learn to
communicate more quickly and effectively.
Pictures are used in addition to spoken language so the children can exchange pictures to indicate their needs
and wants. This method has shown some success because of the use of visuals and because the
communication is immediately reinforced (rewarded) with the requested item.
All individuals with autistic spectrum disorders have deficits in social cognition, or the ability to think in
ways necessary for appropriate social interaction. This deficit can be addressed by a technique developed by
educator Carol Gray, which helps individuals with autism "read" and understand social situations.
Referred to as "Social Stories," this technique presents appropriate social behaviors in the form of a story.
These stories can be read by a teacher or parent, or even by the individual with ASD. Typically, the author
introduces the story by reading it twice with the person. If able, the person with ASD then reads it once a
day independently. For a person who cannot read, the author may record the story on an audiotape with
cues for the person to turn the page as he/she 'reads' along. Once the individual successfully accomplishes
the skills or appropriately responds in the social situation description, use of the story can be decreased. This
can be done by reducing the number of times the story is read each week or by only reviewing the story
once a month or as necessary.
Behavioral training teaches people of all ages with autism how to communicate appropriately. This type of
training can reduce behavior problems and improve adaptation skills. Both behavioral training and behavioral
management use positive reinforcement to improve behavior. They also use social skills training to improve
communication. The specific program should be chosen according to the child's needs.
High-functioning autistic children may be enrolled in mainstream classrooms and child care facilities
watching the behavior of other typically developing children can provide examples for autistic children to
follow. However, some children are over stimulated in a regular classroom and work best in smaller, more
Consistent use of these behavioral interventions produces the best results. The child's functional abilities,
behavior, and daily environment should be thoroughly assessed before behavioral training and management
begins. Parents, family members, teachers, and caregivers of the autistic child should all be trained in these
techniques. Some treatment approaches of behavioral therapy include: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and
TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children).
Many individuals with autism have been treated with music therapy with varying degrees of success. This
therapy uses music as a facilitating agent to teach a variety of skills including academic/cognitive skills,
communication skills, and social skills. Specially trained music therapists include activities such as singing,
moving to music and playing instruments in their sessions.
The idea behind music therapy is that music has been shown to affect a different part of the brain than
verbal communication does. So, if awareness can get into the brain through a different pathway that may be
functioning more effectively than the impaired communication influence, then the student can learn skills
through this different channel.
Additionally, music is by nature is very structured; thus, it often provides the best environment for learning.
The sound stimulus can also aid in sensory integration as well as aid in socialization. Finally, a music therapy
program can be easily applied in a private as well as a public school setting.
Auditory Integration Training (AIT)
This therapy is intended to correct or improve auditory processing problems that may occur if the auditory
messages received by the brain are distorted. It is also used for hypersensitivity to sound. Often regarded as
a controversial therapy, AIT involves listening to vocal music through headphones connected to a device
that electronically transforms the sounds. Training is provided for 30 minutes, typically twice a day for 10
consecutive days. Before receiving the AIT, the individual is given an audiogram to determine the hearing
ability for various sound frequencies. After this, the individual listens to music through a special machine
through the earphones.
Although no scientific research exists to support this intervention, some parents feel it has made significant
changes for their child. Others, however, have noted few if any differences after the therapy. Supposedly,
AIT reduces hearing hypersensitivity for some people as well as providing intense stimulation for the brain.
More research to support use of this method is needed. It is believed that such sensitivity and sound
distortion can lead to learning and behavior problems.
The Son-Rise Program
Son-Rise is a treatment program for autism, autism spectrum disorders, PDD and other disabilities related to
communication and reciprocity. The program teaches a specific and extensive method of treatment and
education designed to help families and caregivers enable their children to dramatically improve in all areas of
learning, development, communication and skill acquisition. It offers educational techniques, strategies and
principles for designing, implementing and maintaining a stimulating, high-energy, one-on-one, home-based,
child-centered program. The therapy is an educational treatment which harmonizes and includes joining
children instead of going against them. The program places parents as key teachers, therapists and directors
of their own programs and utilizes the home as the most nurturing environment in which to help their
The Son-Rise belief is that by joining in a child's repetitive and ritualistic behaviors supplies the key to
unlocking the mystery of these behaviors and facilitates eye contact, social development and the inclusion of
others in play. Utilizing a child's own motivation advances learning and builds the foundation for education
and skill acquisition. Teaching through interactive play results in effective and meaningful socialization and
communication. Placing the parent as the child's most important and lasting resource provides a consistent
and compelling focus for training, education and inspiration. Creating a safe, distraction-free work/play area
facilitates the optimal environment for learning and growth is basically the approach.
Dolphin Assisted Therapy
Dolphin Assisted Therapy (D.A.T.) is a new modern medicine that some people categorize as part of the
Animal therapy. This field of medicine although relatively new, has shown results in patients who try it.
Doctors at the dolphin therapy center claim they have helped more than 1,000 children overcome learning
disorders, and say that represents a 97 percent success rate. Dolphins and children working together have
built a hypothetical base, and programs designed for children suffering from a range of disorders, including
autism and A.D.D, ages 2-13 has made it a realization.
The student with special needs is taken to the pool and is encouraged to swim with the dolphin for thirty
minutes. The individual stays in close contact with the dolphin, cuddles and kisses the dolphin; the dolphin
sings to the student and helps him/her swim, carrying the individual who holds on to its fins. A carefree
relationship between the student and the dolphin is experienced. Swimming with dolphins for half an hour
enhances the child’s awareness and curiosity to the outside world. As a result, acceleration is observed in
the learning process of children who are tutored by special instructors, who take speech lessons and who
are treated with physical therapy.
Some medical professionals admit that dolphins can have a therapeutic effect on people suffering from
depression and learning difficulties. But doctors are baffled as to how the process works. One theory is that
dolphins use their unique scanning system skill to identify neurological disorders in people, and then help
them relax and open up to learning and healing. But many scientists argue that the children just like the feel
of the dolphins, and it is no more than a recreational pastime. And they note that there is not a conclusive
study on dolphin therapy to prove it really works.
Among the available options are biomedical treatments (interventions that involve activity of bodily process)
that some families feel have been helpful to their children with autism spectrum disorders. Some of these
choices have some documentation as to their effectiveness on specific symptoms. Certain medications, for
example, have been proven to be helpful in reducing difficult symptoms such as anxiety or
There’s others like dietary interventions, which have little proven evidence, but have been supported by
families who say the improvements in their children’s abilities or behavior are noticeable. There are also
many other choices available; among them are some that are dangerous, and have little support from anyone
other than the individuals who profit from them. We advise families to seek extensive information and talk to
many other families who have tried a biomedical intervention before trying this treatment. You should also
research and verify basis of any unusual treatments before you invest.
Caution: Many of these listed can be expensive, and are not generally covered by insurance, though you may wish to
check with your pediatrician for advice on filing insurance claims.
Secretin Hormone Therapy
This was a popular concocted treatment in recent years due to a news report that praised the effectiveness.
Secretin is actually a natural hormone that was used in diagnostic tests for intestinal ailments. . The safety
and efficacy of secretin has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for single dose
use in diagnosing gastrointestinal problems such as impaired pancreatic function or gastric problems such as
ulcers in adults.
At the present time, there is no agreed upon procedure to determine which children may potentially benefit
from the use of this drug. Physicians are advised that, like all drugs, there is the possibility of adverse events
that may be associated with individual allergies or susceptibilities. An initial small test dose is recommended
as a precaution against allergic reactions and appropriate measures for the treatment of acute hypersensitivity
reactions should be administered.
Although more than 100 children have received secretin injections for the treatment of autism, only one
study on its use in three children has been published at this time. The study discuss possible mechanisms of
action in the relation of "gut-brain" theories of autism that propose a link between the gastrointestinal
disorders observed in many children with autism and their brain impairment. Since that time, many studies
have been done with little evidence of its effectiveness.
Several researchers have presumed that diet, food allergies or intolerance, or yeast may contribute to or even
cause autism, although at the current time no research exists to prove or disprove this theory. Since
researchers are still actively exploring much of this area, reliable information concerning this possible
intervention is sometimes difficult to find.
Some researchers have believe that sugar, wheat, milk and some additives may be the cause of autistic-like
behaviors in individuals. Others believe that a lack of essential fatty acids in the diet or an overgrowth of
yeast (Candida) is the culprit. Some dietary interventions such as antifungal medications, herbal treatments,
gluten and casein-free diets (both sources of protein), and elimination of processed foods and food additives
have gained popularity. Additionally, limited research exists regarding the use of mega doses of Vitamin B6
and Magnesium to treat autism. The goal of this therapy is to normalize body metabolism and thus improve
There is a theory that vitamin deficiencies, probably due to related digestive and environmental factors, can
cause behavioral and learning problems. Vitamin B6 has been shown to normalize brain waves and urine
chemistry as well as reduce the effects of allergic reactions by strengthening the immune system.
DMG (Dimethylglycine, a non-toxic metabolite)
DMG is available in many health food stores. It is legally classified as a food. Parents have reported positive
benefits in behavior. For those who have noted a difference, most have noticed this within two weeks of its
usage. There have been legal battles over its use, so it is no longer sold as a vitamin, but rather as a food
Vitamin C is suggested as a vitamin for persons with ASD due to its improvement in the depressive, manic,
and paranoid symptom complexes, together with an improvement in personality functioning. It has not been
researched as a treatment for ASD, but families report improvement in some children. Vitamin C is crucial to
brain function, which may relate to noted improvements in some persons with ASD.
The use of vitamins has been supported by unscientific reports to improve speech, eye contact, social
behavior, and attention span. However, these interventions must be monitored in order to maintain a healthy
level of vitamins in the body. Certain specific vitamin regimens are felt to be effective by some families.
Nutritional therapy – Each person functions best with different levels of nutrients in the body. If these are
not available in sufficient quantity it can affect performance of metabolism. There may also be toxins present
in the system that can have an affect on levels of nutrients. Nutritional therapy is designed to provide the
individual body’s optimum level of needed nutrients through the use of supplements.
Food allergies/sensitivities – Some specialists in environmental medicine believe that brain function may be
affected by a reaction to a certain food or family of foods, or other environmental substances. Sensitivity to
these substances can result in behavioral, motor, learning or personality dysfunction. Typical allergy tests
may not identify these substance sensitivities. Specialists in environmental medicine use a variety of tests
that are different from typical allergy testing.
Yeast/fungal overgrowth – The thinking behind this theory is that overgrowth of candida yeast may occur
when the intestinal environment is altered by a weakened immune system. This imbalance can, in turn,
create dysfunctions in other areas of the body, including the brain.
‘Leaky gut’ – Related to the yeast/fungal theory, this term describes the belief that toxins produced in the
digestive process pass through barriers in the intestine and enter the bloodstream due to a compromised
immune system. These toxins then affect the rest of the bodily functions that depend on the blood supply,
including the brain.
Symptoms of food allergy, yeast infection, and/or leaky gut are associated and often they are treated
together. Treatment usually consists of a diet that eliminates foods that promote yeast growth along with
supplements of ‘good’ bacteria and/or anti-fungal agents.
There is a great deal of controversy currently over the possible connection of childhood vaccines and the
onset of autism. While there is no provable evidence of a connection at this time, drug manufacturers have
removed the mercury content in some vaccines. Some researchers have suggested that parents ask about
the mercury content of a vaccine before immunizing, to be sure your child is receiving the newer vaccines.
They also say that it might be advisable (at least until further information is available) to immunize
individually rather than with multiple vaccines at one time, and/or that immunization be delayed until the child
is older than the current two-year-old standard. It is, however, still required that children be immunized
before they can be registered for public school, and it is not generally recommended that children not be
immunized at all.
There are some who support the research that metals which are known to be toxic (lead, mercury, etc.) are
present in higher quantities in individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities, and that this may
be related to their ability to function. It is not clear whether the reported levels are accurate, or whether it
might be a cause of autism or simply an after effect of some other source. It is also not clear what therapies
might be helpful, should it prove to be related. Chelation or removing metals from the blood is a risky
endeavor, and there is currently no firm evidence that this is effective.
Since children on the autism spectrum are so different from one another, and since there may be more than
one cause for autism, there is a great deal of controversy over what is the ‘best’ educational program. While
professionals and researchers may differ in their support of specific methods, there are certain principles
that all agree on. Intervention at the very earliest opportunity, intensity, and consistency are all supported by
professionals regardless of their specific views. This should be kept in mind when planning for the education
of all children with autism spectrum disorders. It is also important to recognize that each method has some
value, and that different children may need different approaches.