Autism is a developmental disorder that interferes with communication, social interaction and behavioural difficulties. It is part of a group of disorders medically referred to as Autism spectrum disorders (ASD). An autism therapist helps autistic children reach their full potential.
- Classic autism or Autistic disorder
- Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism
- Pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS) or atypical autism.
These have overlapping symptoms and management yet differ in the severity of disease and impact on life. Autism is diagnosable in the first few years of life, most commonly identified by the age of 2-3 years. 1 in 59 children develop some form of autism spectrum disorder and it is 3 to 4 times more frequent in boys than in girls.
It is a lifelong disorder with reduced quality of life. The offered treatments help improve symptoms, develop functionality and give independence.
Signs and symptoms:
Every child presents with a distinct set of symptoms with a separate severity level. According to the American psychiatric association guideline, autism symptoms are capped under three main concerns:
- Difficulty in communication and interaction with others, such as developmental delay, issues in speech, maintaining eye contact, communication, slow response, irrelevant facial expressions and gesture, and flat robotic voice.
- Repetitive behaviour and limited interests; repeating words or phrases, able to talk about a thing of interest without waiting for a response, unable to make-believe, focus on a moving object, intense interest in a number, detail or fact
- Symptoms that impair the everyday functionality; routine dependent, disturbed sleep, irritable, unresponsive to changes in light, temperature, or noise.
Despite these issues, they can be strong visual and auditory learners. They can learn about their point of interest in detail and remember it for prolonged periods.
Treatment and therapies
In the case of suspecting a child to be autistic, it is important to take immediate steps for diagnosis. Timely diagnosis and, hence, timely treatment lead to early learning of disease, stops the establishment of disturbing behaviours and underlines appropriate child development.
Training the parents to be part of the child’s treatment enables them to give proper care to the child and support for further treatment. It helps in skill development and improves the continuing outcomes.
However, the treatment of autism and ASD is not so straightforward. Each individual has a unique set of challenges and strengths. An individualized, multi-disciplinary approach is planned with physicians, therapists, and parents to take on the challenges step-by-step.
Though there is no complete cure of autism, various ASD-directed therapies and some medicines, help resolve the symptoms and make the quality of life better.
Therapies form the major pillar of treatment in autism. These help develop the necessary personal and social skills for self-support and focus on strengths. Therapies also reduce dependence and improper behaviours. Following the essential outlines, the therapies are more individualized and adjustable to the progress of each child. Ongoing therapy while blending into mainstream helps them outgrow the disorder. Some of the frequently recommended therapies are:
A. Applied Behaviour Analysis: (ABA)
Behavioural therapy is the most used therapeutic intervention for autistic individuals. It has been around for more than 50 years and has evolved to be quite effective. ABA focuses on providing the child with skills for basic self-care, and academic and social interactions. Skill development is divided into small steps and the progress is monitored by therapists.
Behavioural therapists teach children what is beneficial for them in the long run. It can take up to 40 hours a week in full-time, classroom-based programs. It simultaneously improves personal and social skills, particularly in combination with other therapies like speech, occupational, and academic skills.
Different types of ABA include:
- Discrete Trial Training– for teaching the child positive behaviours by step-wise tests and constructive feedback
- Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention– for children 2-5 years of age, one-to-one sessions with trained therapists for building behavioural skills and discouraging improper conduct
- Early Start Denver Model– for 1-2 years old children, collaborative playgroup activities with parents and therapists to develop skills
- Pivotal Response Training– focuses on child motivation, realization of benefits of therapy, and encouragement of positive behaviour
- Verbal Behaviour Intervention and speech therapy- for children with difficulty in vocalizing, development of verbal communication skills, and taught how to use words for getting their needs and thoughts across, a step ahead than simply labelling and gesturing.
B. Cognitive behavioural therapy: (CBT)
CBT is also a tried and tested therapy for milder autism, around for a long time. It helps the child recognize their particular undesirable behaviours and the triggers for such actions. The therapist practically guides them towards positive responses by breaking the problem into parts, exploring it with the child, and giving positive responses. This is useful in cases where aggression, anxiety and fearfulness are dominant.
C. Developmental and individual differences relationship therapy: (DIR)
Also known as Floortime, DIR therapy engages the child in activities of their interest with the parents and the therapist to develop relational and emotional skills. It allows children to learn with and around family.
D. Relationship development intervention: (RDI)
RDI is similar to floortime. Here a more meaningful relationship is built between the children and their families through defined goals and steps. It promotes social and emotional bonding. The parents are educated for skill development of the child at home, such as eye contact, emotional attachment, empathy, engagement with others, and communication.
E. Assistive technology:
Devices like tablets and interactive boards are used to develop social communication skills. This includes PECS and TEACCH. PECS or Picture Exchange Communication System teaches simple question answering and everyday conversation skills through symbols.
TEACCH is Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication- handicapped Children. It utilizes visual cues and pictures to teach the child basic personal skills.
F. Sensory Integration Therapy:
This therapy is particularly recommended for children who are adversely responsive to sensory stimuli. Their interaction with sensory stimuli, such as touch, lights, sounds, and smells, trains them to deal positively with undesirable stimuli and gives the therapist pointers into new skill areas.
G. Social groups or social skills training:
Social groups have structured programs to develop skills for useful everyday communication and challenges in children. This may be a little difficult for the child because it involves peers instead of family. Real-life situations are presented with appropriate solutions and demonstrated to the children with the help of pictures, text, or stories.
Some programs include families and connect with other families with autism to help understand and manage the disorder.
H. Occupational therapy:
Occupational therapy trains the child in life skills and to make them independent and self-sufficient. This includes skills like dressing themselves, bathing, and feeding.
Medications do not treat the disorder; they rather reduce the symptoms of anxiety, depression, aggression, irritability, and hyperactivity. Yet children with autism may function better when they are on some medications, such as risperidone, SSRIs, anti-anxiety, and stimulants.
Nutrition and complementary medicine:
Unproven facts say that gluten, casein, and allergy-causing foods should be avoided in children with autism; while a well-balanced diet with adequate vitamins and minerals helps in the proper development of the child.
For the parents:
- A parent is the one who can fully understand their child. If a child is diagnosed with autism, the parent should learn about it for better coping with the disorder and giving support to the child. They understand their child better than any therapist and can help the child in many ways:
- Accept them for who they are and be a home for them
- Be consistent, follow a routine
- Encourage good behaviour with feedback
- Connect with the child, verbally and non-verbally
- Be sensitive to their needs
- Try to understand their point of view behind negative behaviours
- Engage with the therapists to learn and train the child
- Be the expert for the child’s best interest.
Autism spectrum disorders affect not only the child, but the family as a whole. Treatment for ASD is individualized, progress-dependent, and rests on therapies. Including behavioural, speech, and occupational therapies. The most important factors for autism treatment are acceptance and inclusion. The right treatment plan can do wonders for the child, giving them a better quality of life.