SARRC - Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center
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SARRC Outreach Magazine

Treatment & Interventions

It is important to remember that every person impacted by autism is different and may benefit from different treatments or interventions. It's also important to note that there are well-researched interventions that SARRC teaches and supports. With further research, we hope to develop treatment protocols that match the autism phenotype of each individual. Until that time comes, we urge and caution families to examine scientific evidence before beginning any intervention or treatment program. We believe it's prudent to focus your energy on interventions that have proven beneficial in multiple clinical studies.

The following information includes brief summaries of a variety of ASD interventions. SARRC does not endorse or support any of the interventions; they are provided strictly for informational purposes.

ABA-Based Interventions

Although applied behavior analysis (ABA) is often paired with the treatment of children with autism, it is not a new procedure, nor is it exclusive to the treatment of autism. ABA is based upon more than 50 years of scientific investigation with individuals affected by a wide range of behavioral and developmental disorders. Since the 1960s, there has been a wide range of research demonstrating the efficacy of ABA in the reduction of disruptive behaviors typically observed in children with autism. Research also shows that ABA is effective when used to teach complex communication, social, play and self-help skills. Currently, research indicates that many children will do best with 30 or more hours of early intensive behavioral intervention per week. Interventions and treatments that have been considered evidence-based and supported by research have generally been based on ABA and are described below.

Discrete Trial Training

Discrete trial training (DTT) is a specific type of applied behavior analysis (ABA). In this approach, a teacher sequentially presents a discriminative stimulus (an instruction) and provides consequences for a correct or incorrect response. DTT is effective because it gives a child a clear message as to what is expected. It also lets the child know if the response is correct and appropriate.

Pivotal Response Teaching

Pivotal response teaching (PRT) is a method that uses naturalistic and motivational procedures to increase appropriate developmental behaviors in children with autism. PRT focuses especially on fostering communication and play behaviors. PRT is based on the principles of ABA.

Incidental Teaching

Applied Verbal Behavior

Applied verbal behavior (AVB) is a type of ABA. AVB focuses on teaching verbal behavior through a collection of highly effective teaching procedures taken from the science of behavior analysis.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

Dietary Interventions

Gluten-free, Casein-free Diet

The gluten- and casein-free diet is a popular intervention for people with autism. Gluten is an elastic protein in wheat that gives cohesiveness to dough. Casein is a protein in milk, cheese and other dairy products. Some parents and professionals assert that gluten-free and casein-free diets are successful in improving communication, social interaction and sleep patterns while reducing digestive problems and autistic behaviors.

No scientific studies have been conducted to support this contention. We recommend you consult your doctor when considering a gluten- and casein-free diet for your child.

Feeding Therapy

Many children with autism have oral sensitivities that are reflected in problems with eating. The taste and texture of foods compound this problem and leads many children to have a self-limiting diet of very few foods. If these habits are not interrupted, they can lead to malnutrition and, in the most severe cases, the need for a feeding tube.

Bio-medical Interventions

Some parents and autism researchers hope that bio-medical interventions, including chelation (designed to rid the body of possible heavy metal toxins) and vitamin therapy, will prove to be effective in the treatment of autism. However, at this time, there is no consistent research or consensus among autism experts that these treatments are effective. Best clinical practices for autism will emerge over the next few years as robust research studies demonstrate both safety and effectiveness. Any bio-medical intervention should be discussed with and monitored by your child's healthcare provider.

Pharmacological Interventions

No medication can correct the repetitive behavior, communication or social challenges that make up the core deficits of autism. Scientists have found, however, that medicines developed to treat other disorders with similar symptoms are sometimes effective in treating the symptoms and behaviors that make it difficult for individuals with autism to function at home, school or work. The idea of using medication as part of treatment is something that should be discussed in great detail with your doctor.

Other Interventions & Therapies

Speech Therapy

Language deficits are one of the core aspects of autism, and speech therapy provides professional help and guidance in communication development for individuals with autism.

Occupational Therapy

Although not listed in the DSM IV as one of the recognized deficits in autism, clinicians have found that many children with autism have significant hypotonia. Others have motor-planning problems affecting their ability to perform fine-motor tasks such as writing. Occupational therapists are an essential part of the treatment team working on these deficits and primarily work on improving functional skills.

Physical Therapy

Some children qualify for physical therapy because their motor-planning and hypotonia affect their ability to move and walk. Motor delays can compound difficulties for children with other developmental problems.