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Autism Spectrum Disorder:
symptoms and treatment

Autism ribbonAutism is a developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is a "spectrum disorder" defined by a certain set of behaviors and affects each individual to varying degrees. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests "There is no single best treatment for all children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, well-planned, structured teaching of specific skills is very important".

If your child has been diagnosed with ASD there are some early intervention services and types of treatment that are commonly used for children on the autism spectrum.

Early intervention services

Left untreated autism is a deteriorating disease; it’s important to begin working with experienced care professionals immediately. Talk to your child’s pediatrician and find a team that understand Autism and where your child falls on the spectrum.

Research¹ shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve your child’s development. Early intervention therapies include a wide range of treatments to help improve motor skills, speech and social development.

To learn more about early intervention for infants and toddlers with disabilities visit the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities.

Types of treatment

There are many different types of treatment for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They include a combination of communication, occupational, and physical therapies. It’s important to talk to your doctor to find out which therapy or combination of therapies will work best for your child.

The National Institute of Mental Health and the Autism Society of America are both rich in resources, FAQ’s and suggested questions you should have for your doctor regarding treatments.

Different types of treatment can typically be broken down into the following categories:

  • Behavior and communication
  • Dietary
  • Medication
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Behavior and communication

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Research Council reports that behavior and communication approaches that best help children with ASD are those that provide structure, focus and organization, in addition to family participation. All of these techniques are Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) and encourage positive behaviors and discourage the negative.

Types of treatment include, Discrete Trial Training (DTT), which uses a series of trials to teach each step f of a desired behavior or response. Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) which is a type of ABA for very young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pivotal Response Training (PRT) aims to increase a child’s motivation to learn and monitor his own behavior and Verbal Behavior Intervention (VBI) is a type of ABA that focuses on teaching verbal skills.

To learn more about these behavioral techniques visit the Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicap Children (TTEACCH) website.

You can also find out more about Applied Behavioral Analysis and other treatments for ASD at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders.


The CDC suggests that some parents feel dietary changes make a difference in how their child with ASD behaves and feels. However, dietary treatments do not have the scientific support needed for widespread recommendation. An unproven treatment might help one child but may not help another.

Dietary treatments are based on the concept that food allergies or nutritional deficiencies cause symptoms of ASD. You should speak to your child’s doctor to explore dietary approaches in treatment.


There are no medications that can cure Autism or even treat its main symptoms. There are some medications that can help with related symptoms, such as medicines to manager high energy levels, inability to focus, depression or seizures.

To learn more about medications and ASD visit the National Institute of Mental Health autism website.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Some parents and healthcare professionals, in order to relieve symptoms of ASD use treatments outside of what is typically recommended. These types of treatments are known as Complementary and Alternative Treatments (CAM).

They might include a combination of dietary, biological or body-based treatments.² These are very controversial, though current research shows that as many as one third of parents who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have tried some form of CAM therapies; some of them could be potentially dangerous. Never treat your child without first speaking to your child’s doctor and health care team.

To get the facts about CAM therapies visit the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The information contained in this article was pulled from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You can find even more relevant information by exploring the CDC "Learn the Signs. Act Early" campaign.

¹ Handleman, J.S., Harris, S., eds. Preschool Education Programs for Children with Autism (2nd ed). Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. 2000. National Research Council. Educating Children with Autism. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

² Gupta, Vidya Bhushan. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York Medical College and Columbia University, 2004. Pediatric Habilitation, volume 12.

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