Individuals with autism tend to be diverse. Therefore, it is difficult to use words such as all or none when describing this group.
As each child with autism is unique, parents select therapeutic interventions based upon a comprehensive assessment of the child’s challenges and needs. A set of goals is then developed and programs or interventions are selected, which are designed to help that child achieve these goals. Sometimes parents carry out a program themselves and hire someone to assist them or they have professional therapist provide direct therapy. The following is a summary of therapies that are usually used in the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders.
Speech-Language Therapy (SLT) encompasses a variety of techniques and addresses a range of challenges for children with autism. For instance, some individuals are unable to speak. Others may have difficulty understanding information or they may struggle to express themselves. In each case, the aim is to help the individual learn useful and functional communication in whatever form. Speech-Language Therapy is provided by Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP). An SLT program begins with an individual evaluation by a speech-language pathologist. The therapy may then be conducted one-on-one, in a small group or in a classroom setting. Speech therapy is usually delivered in a half-hour to one-hour session, with the frequency determined by the needs of the child. Many speech-language therapists will also provide training directly to the parents so that they may use techniques all day long that are designed to encourage your child to communicate. Most speech-language therapists will also design a home program for parents to follow so that the child’s therapy expands beyond the one hour a week (or less) that they are seen by the speech-language pathologist.
Occupational Therapy (OT)
Occupational Therapy (OT) brings together cognitive, physical and motor skills. The aim of OT is to enable the individual to gain independence and participate more fully in life. For a child with autism, the focus may be on appropriate play, learning and basic life skills. Occupational therapy is usually delivered in a half-hour to one-hour session, with the frequency determined by the needs of the child.
Goals of an OT program might include independent dressing, feeding, grooming and use of the toilet, and improved social, fine-motor and visual-perceptual skills. The therapist will then prepare strategies and tactics for learning key tasks to practice at home, in school and other settings. OT is provided by Certified Occupational Therapists.
Sensory Integration Therapy (SI)
Sensory Integration (SI) therapy is designed to identify disruptions in the way the individual’s brain processes movement, touch, smell, sight and sound, and help them process these senses in a more productive way. It is sometimes used alone but is often part of an occupational therapy program. It is believed that SI does not teach higher-level skills, but enhances sensory processing abilities, allowing the child to be more available to acquire higher-level skills. Certified Occupational Therapists provide Sensory Integration Therapy.
(PT) Physical Therapy (PT) focuses on any problems with movement that cause functional limitations. Children with autism frequently have challenges with motor skills such as sitting, walking, running, and jumping. PT can also address poor muscle tone, balance and coordination. A physical therapist will start by evaluating the abilities and developmental level of the child. Once they identify where the individual’s challenges are, they design activities that target those areas. PT might include assisted movement, various forms of exercise, and orthopaedic equipment. Physical therapy is usually delivered in a half-hour to one-hour session by a Certified Physical Therapist, with the frequency determined by the needs of the child.
Biomedical Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorders
New research suggests that ASD is essentially a complex biomedical condition in which various bodily systems are not functioning properly, leading to impacts on the brain. It is suggested that the gastrointestinal, immune, hepatic, endocrine and nervous systems impact brain function and development. Treating the medical issues may in turn alleviate some or all of the symptoms of ASD. Treatments such as the Gluten Free/Casein Free (GF/CF), which removes wheat and other sources of gluten as well as dairy products from the child’s diet, are used by many parents utilizing biomedical interventions. Parents try to work closely with their paediatrician to explore if biomedical intervention may benefit their child. However, at this time, very few physicians are educated about biomedical interventions and so families are often left to try these interventions without medical support.
To find more information about biomedical interventions
Autism Canada Foundation (www.autismcanada.org)
Autism Research Institute (www.autism.com)
Talk About Curing Autism Now (TACA) (www.tacanow.com)
Family Support and Education
Many parents, like individuals in the general public, may know little about autism spectrum disorders prior to their child being diagnosed with the disorder. All parents go through a stage of grieving the diagnosis and can benefit from information and support during this challenging
time. As families of individuals become the child’s primary service provider and manager of services, they must become well educated about autism spectrum disorders and treatment options. Autism impacts the whole family, as time, attention and financial resources must
now be directed towards caring for the child and coordinating the child’s treatment. Family programming is therefore essential for a “best practice” outcome for children with autism and is
usually delivered in the following areas:
- Family education on Autism Spectrum Disorders.
- Support groups for parents and siblings.
- Respite services for families so they can take a much-needed break from the 24-hour/7-days-a-week responsibility of caring for their child.
- Psychological services.