Autism: Diagnosis & Treatment

In many cases, children with Autism will begin to develop normally in the first months and even years of life, demonstrating skills such as sitting, crawling and walking. It usually isn't until about 18 months or 2 years of age that parents and doctors may begin to see signs of developmental delays. If your doctor suspects your child may be showing signs of Autism, he/she will most likely refer you to a specialist who will conduct a thorough evaluation.

Diagnosis may be difficult as there are no official medical tests to pinpoint the disorder. Specialists will likely observe your child by conducting a series of developmental tests covering speech, language and psychological issues. While the signs may appear as early as 18 months, a diagnosis may not be made until your child is 2 or 3 years old, when delays in social and language skills become more apparent.

Early diagnosis by a psychologist, neurologist, or developmental pediatrician  (before 3 years old) is often recommended in order to address delays and maladaptive behavior.

Treating Autism

There is no current cure for Autism, and because each case differs so greatly, there is not a set, "one-size-fits-all" treatment. In fact, over the course of the last 40 years, researchers and professionals have developed a wide array of treatment and intervention programs for children with Autism, including:

Behavioral and Communication Therapies: These types of programs are designed to help with social, language and behavioral problems associated with Autism. Depending on the child's individual  needs and deficits, programs are created to increase certain behaviors, decrease other maladaptive behaviors, and teach alternative replacement behaviors. Effective intervention strategies such as Incidental Teaching, Pivotal Response Training, Picture Exchange Communication Systems,  Social Skills Training and Discreet Trials are incorporated into behavioral therapy.

Educational Therapies: Studies have found that children with Autism often respond well to education programs that are highly structured. These types of programs will often consist of a team of specialists who work together, using different activities, to improve the children's skills.

Drug Therapies: While there isn't a drug that can counter the effects of Autism, certain medications help control nervous behaviors such as anxiety.

Creative Therapies: Creative therapy is one of the most alternative approaches to treating Autism. Some parents find that their children respond the best to music and/or art therapy.

While there are a variety of treatments for Autism, scientific evidence and research shows that early diagnosis and behavioral intervention focusing on Applied Behavioral Intervention and Discrete Trials are most effective in the treatment of Autism.