Doctors are diagnosing a growing number of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Currently, 1 in 68 children have one of these conditions, and 30 percent of them remain minimally verbal, even with medical treatment.
If you are raising a child who has been diagnosed with ASD, you understand that there can be difficulties with everyday communication and social interactions that most parents might take for granted. Your child may also have a hard time describing a problem, such as a headache, a cold or any other ailment. This can be frustrating for everyone and can make it more difficult to ensure your child gets needed care.
Fortunately, once children have been diagnosed with ASD, there is a wide range of early treatments and interventions that are available to them, and new innovations are being developed on a regular basis.
A variety of interventions
Helping children with ASD begins with recognizing the range of behaviors the disorder can cause. These may include:
- Not pointing at objects that attract attention, or not looking at objects that other people point to
- Lack of interest in interacting with others
- Avoidance of eye contact
- Response to sounds, but not to the speech of others
- Trouble expressing needs with either words or motions
- Repetitive actions
- Stress over changes in routines
- A loss of prior skills
There is no one test that can diagnose ASD, but a trained medical professional will know how to spot these behaviors early. This is important because timely intervention may help your child acquire some of the skills that are needed to communicate and interact with other people. There are various approaches that may help, depending on your child’s individual needs.
For example, members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Research Council promote the use of Applied Behavioral Analysis. In general, the related strategies aim to discourage negative behaviors while encouraging positive ones, focusing on verbal communication and learning skills.
Additionally, children may benefit from:
- Occupational therapy
- Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped CHildren (TEACCH)
- Speech therapy
- Sensory integration therapy
- Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
There are also medications that can help control problems with energy levels, focus, depression and seizures. While some research indicates that certain dietary changes or alternative therapies can be beneficial, these approaches need further study.
As research continues, more innovations become available to help individuals with ASD. Recently, researchers led by the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted an experiment in which 61 children with ASD, ages 5 to 8 years, underwent therapy for communication skills. Half of this group received computer tablets with speech-generating applications to teach them words. By the end of the study period, the researchers observed that those who had tablets were more likely to spontaneously use speech in a social context.
No two children with ASD are alike. If your child was recently diagnosed with ASD, do not feel overwhelmed by the different options for therapy available. It may take time to find what works best for your child, and it will help to have a plan for how to evaluate and approach the various types of therapy, including how to assess gains made. Health advisors can direct you to trained experts who can help with formulating a personalized treatment plan.
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