Autism Treatment, Therapy and Schools
Most experts recommend starting autism treatment as soon as possible to ensure positive progress and a more independent future for your child. But how do you know what treatment options are available for and where to access them? When it comes time for kindergarten, what schooling options are available, and how do you choose the best educational environment for your child? Here are some answers:
Types of therapy
Therapy is the most common method used to treat the symptoms of autism and other PDDs. With therapy, children with autism can gain more independence and progress at home and in school. Which therapy is right for your child will depend upon his or her individual difficulties. Speak with your pediatrician or an autism specialist about your options, which include:
- Early intervention services. Health professionals agree that early detection and treatment of autism can lay the foundation for a healthy, productive life for an autistic child. Early intervention treatment is available for children who are at risk of having developmental delays and does not require a diagnosis of an ASD. Although early intervention will not “cure” autism, there’s evidence that children who receive early developmental or behavioral intervention tend to have higher IQs and improved language skills compared to those who don’t get help early.
- Applied behavior analysis (ABA). This type of therapy is widely used to treat children with an ASD. To define it broadly, this approach encourages positive behaviors and discourages negative ones in order to build up a child’s skill set. Some types of ABA focus on verbal and speech skills, while other types involve breaking down tasks into small components and encouraging correct answers and behaviors through positive reinforcement.
- Speech therapy. Speech therapy can help non-verbal children develop communication skills, as well as help highly verbal children on the other end of the spectrum use and understand language properly. Speech therapy is likely to be partially covered by insurance or offered for free through your child’s school.
- Occupational therapy. This hands-on therapeutic approach teaches basic life skills to give a child more independence. Skills taught might include dressing oneself, eating, and bathing.
- Medication. There’s no medication on the market to cure autism itself, although medicine is often used to treat behavioral or emotional problems associated with ASDs, such as aggression, hyperactivity, and anxiety.
Parents who are anxious to do whatever they can to help their child may look into alternative treatments such as gluten-free and casein-free diets or hyperbaric oxygen chambers, even if they haven’t been scientifically proven to be effective. The CDC recommends that you confer with your child’s doctor before starting an alternative autism treatment.
Does diet have an effect on autism?
According to the NIH website on autism, some autistic children respond well to a gluten-free or casein-free diet, in which foods containing wheat, rye, barley, or most dairy products are eliminated from the child’s meals. However, researchers have been unable to find a link between diet and the symptoms of autism. The CDC lists dietary changes as a treatment option but notes that there isn’t enough conclusive scientific evidence to recommend this type of therapy.
Autism at school
Public schools are required by law to provide education to children with ASDs. Public school is an affordable option for parents, and, because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education act, schools must give students with special needs the right support for educational success. Autistic children in public school are also required to have an “Individualized Education Plan” (IEP) that explicitly lays out goals, special needs, and checkups to measure progress. Despite this, public schools tend to be larger and busier than private schools. The latter can be more beneficial to a kid who becomes anxious around large crowds. Which educational setting is right for your child depends on the severity of the autistic disorder and your child’s specific needs and skills.
Some options include:
- Mainstream schooling in a typical classroom setting without extra support
- Typical classroom setting with an extra staff member for one-on-one support
- General special needs class with other developmentally- or learning-disabled children
- Specialized autism class alongside other ASD children
- Charter school or online charter school
- A group home where children live away from the family and receive around-the-clock care. This can be an appropriate option for children who are on the aggressive end and require specialized attention.
As your child develops, you may notice that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to his education. What works well one year may be less effective the next. Speak with your child’s teacher or aide about his progress throughout the year.
Where to find treatment
Autism Speaks has a state-by-state listing of ASD resources, including where to get an autism diagnosis, how to begin early intervention programs, where to find state-specific legislation on autism, and more.
When you’ve decided on a course of action for your child, call your health insurance provider to work out the details. Ask specific questions about the therapies (speech, occupational, etc.) that your child might need. What will your out-of-pocket expenses be? Is there a limit on how many visits your insurance plan allows per year? Does your medical plan cover mental health? Once you’re off the phone, research your state’s offerings; some have laws that require insurance companies to include autism-related claims in their coverage.