While it is proven with early detection and intervention children with autism can sustain a better quality of life, the debate continues on which therapies are the best for the treatment of the condition.
According Autism Speaks, parents had reported through MyAutismTeam, a social networking site for parents with children who have autism with more than 28,000 members the best therapies to treat the condition were Occupational, Speech, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapies, along with social skills classes.
Occupational Therapist can helped children with the condition through various developmental topics such as sensory processing disorder, motor skill development, social interaction, potty training, sleep training, etc. Occupational therapists are changing the field of treating children with autism through sensory Integration. Through a research study currently being conducted by Roseann Schaaf, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, Chair and Professor of Thomas Jefferson University—Department of Occupational Therapy, by using occupational therapy of sensory integration on 200 children over the age of five while comparing discrete trial training to determine how both approaches impact functional skills. Once this study is completed, Schaaf and the team will take the time to compare brain function of the patients involved in the study.
The theory behind sensory integration is through working on underlying sensory-motor factors, they will enhance neuroplasticity in the brain. Meaning, sensory integration will change the brain functions based on the experiences it has had.
This form of therapy will change the way autism is treated in children, and how occupational therapy will be approached depending on the individual child. According to Schaaf in the article Sensory Integration for Children with Autism from Advance Healthcare Network, “what we’re not always doing as occupational therapists is being very explicit about why we’re doing what we’re doing. You don’t do the same thing with every child. You individually tailor it based on the child’s needs, and then you think about what you can bring as an OT to the table,” said Schaaf. “It’s also, importantly, about measuring outcomes throughout the entire process. Occupational therapy for children with autism is going to look like occupational therapists helping children with autism gain the highest level of independence and participating in their daily activities, and being very data-driven about which approach they take.”
For many children with autism, ability of speech and communication varies for every child depending where they fall on the spectrum, which makes speech therapy another crucial treatment for the condition.
There are a variety of techniques for speech therapy, which address
a range of challenges. One form of speech therapy is Picture Exchange Communication System, which is an alternative communication intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder that “teaches an individual to give a picture of a desired item to a “communicative partner,” who immediately honors the exchange as a request. The system goes on to teach discrimination of pictures and how to put them together in sentences. In the more advanced phases, individuals are taught to answer questions and to comment,” according to Pyramid Educational Consultants (PECS) website.
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy is considered autism’s most common and highly effective form of therapy, but is also considered a highly controversial treatment for autism. ABA focuses on systematically applying interventions in order to improve social behaviors while demonstrating interventions to a reasonable degree and that they are based on principles of learning, according to Applied Behavioral Strategies’ website.
According to Autism Spectrum Therapies article A Response to “The Controversy Over Autism’s Most Common Therapy,” since ABA was first founded, the form of treatment has changed tremendously since Ivar Lovaas, PhD, initial research. ABA now provides effective interventions and technology based on the science of behavior analysis of individual needs.
As modern medicine advances with technology, ABA has also been modernized through the new innovative form of administering healthcare and therapy through Telehealth, which encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services in an effort to make healthcare more accessible and affordable.
Social skill and communication impairment is also one of autism spectrum disorders main symptoms. Social skills are critical for effective social, emotional, cognitive development as well as overall well-being for children with autism, according to psychologist Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD.
With constant and extensive therapies may on the other hand leave a negative effect on the well-being of children with autism. According to the Spectrum article, Autism therapies blur boundary between clinic, everyday life from Spectrum, “sussing out the ‘active ingredients’ of different therapies may reveal which elements are ideally suited for which children on the spectrum. Ultimately, the question is not, “What is the best autism intervention?” but “Which method is the best match to this child’s profile of skills and needs?”
Treatment of autism has been debated due to various factors, but over the past 20 years, different teams have developed an overabundance of models for treating autism which have become extremely complex as knowledge in child development has advanced.
However, with this new knowledge, researchers are looking for common ingredients to make the most effective form of therapy, which just leaves the question of what the optimal “dose” and setting for therapy is prime depending on the individual child, according to the article Autism therapies blur boundary between clinic, everyday life, from Spectrum.