Autism, which today is more accurately referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a neurophysiological condition. While people diagnosed with ASD may exhibit some physical symptoms that require medical treatment, such as inflammation, the majority of ASD’s symptoms are behavioral.
This can mean people with ASD, especially children, at a critical juncture in their lives, can have major challenges integrating socially due to their behavioral symptoms. There is a range of different symptoms, such as an inability to maintain eye contact, unusual speech patterns, or even hostility. Some traditional medical treatments can help with managing ASD, but medical treatments do not help with the social component.
This is where is therapy can be important. Medical treatments such as administering anti-psychotics, or other medications, can suppress certain behaviors or symptoms, but children must still learn to socialize properly or perform other activities once behavior—such as hostility—has been reduced. Many different types of therapy help children to learn the behaviors that others may take for granted. Depending on the type of ASD symptoms a child has, different, effective forms of therapy include:
The name may be misleading to some since this type of therapy isn’t about training people for employment opportunities. However, this type of therapy is about training people to perform activities that they can rely on to do themselves daily.
Occupational therapy focuses on assessing a child’s needs, especially when it comes to useful daily activities. Then it constructs therapeutic “training courses,” tailored to an ASD child’s sensibilities and needs to effectively learn those activities that give more agency to the child. The range of activities can include anything from learning to tie shoes correctly to training in sleeping quietly, running, skipping, other hand-eye coordination activities, and even self-regulation methods, such as controlling emotional arousal and remaining calm.
This is a very specific form of therapy that requires extensive evaluation of the child, and his or her ASD tendencies, understanding what the symptoms are, and where along the spectrum they lie. It is only after evaluating a child’s symptoms that a proper course of action can be determined for which therapies can be learned, and which may require further treatment or assistance.
Communication for most children is something that is unconsciously “absorbed” and internalized. Under normal conditions, children learn to interpret cues like the rising tone at the end of a sentence to indicate a question or the frown of an adult as disapproval. However, for those with ASD, these communication skills aren’t so easily learned.
One aspect of speech therapy is to more consciously reinforce and train these cues that other children learn without formal training, and impart them to those evaluated as being suitable to learn. This can mean that an ASD child trains to overcome a natural aversion to eye contact, and learns to look at people when speaking. In some cases, it can mean learning alternative forms of communications such as sign language.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behavior Analysis is a very specific, structured form of training that works on a rewards-based system to create long-lasting, desired, behavioral changes. This may be administered by parents, professionals, or both, depending on the circumstances.
ABA has different techniques aimed at achieving different results. Verbal behavior intervention is a technique that is often used to help impart and retain important communication skills. Pivotal response treatment is a different method that is used to train specific social behavior for interacting with others. Early intensive behavioral intervention is a specific form of training best applied to children under the age of five if the ASD diagnosis has occurred early enough.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy, despite having the word “therapy” in its name, is not a behavioral training technique but is a medical procedure. However, as with behavioral therapy techniques, it may affect behavior. Stem cells are “blank cells” in a sense, in that they can reconfigure themselves to become any kind of cells in the human body, such as the brain, or liver or heart cells.
When stem cell therapy is used in ASD patients, it’s been found to help reduce certain behaviors, such as improving receptiveness to communication training and even reducing hostility and aggressiveness. However, stem cell therapy is a recent addition to the arsenal of therapies and treatments, and its full range of possible treatment outcomes is not yet completely documented. Stem cell therapy is medically documented to work, as it has already proven its worth as a form of cancer treatment. But now, stem cell therapy is exploring other avenues of treatment, such as Alzheimer’s and ASD, and this is where more research is being conducted, even as more results come in.
It’s always important to remember that different children will have different needs. If you suspect your child has ASD, get a professional evaluation, then decide from there, according to professional medical advice, what’s the most appropriate treatment.