Treatment for Autism

3D PuzzleEarly intensive interventions can dramatically improve the outlook for young children diagnosed with autism. There are several different treatments that have been effective for individuals with autism. This article provides a summary of treatments that have had positive results. The most effective treatment plan most likely includes a combination of interventions.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA techniques are widely recognized for use with individuals with autism. ABA involves positive rewards to increase targeted behaviors. These methods have been used successfully with many students, with and without disabilities. ABA can be used to teach communication skills, play, social interaction, and a variety of other skills. Interventions should be overseen by a qualified behavioral specialist. The behavioral specialist breaks down specific skills into manageable components and reinforces the child when he demonstrates the desired behaviors. ABA is typically done in a one-on-one setting and is not widely used in school settings. Due to its popularity, many programs and practitioners claim to use ABA methods. It is important to check credentials to ensure that services are provided by a qualified specialist, preferably a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.


TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children) is a special education program developed by Dr. Eric Schopler and colleagues at the University of North Carolina. TEACCH uses an intervention referred to as “Structured Teaching.” Picture schedules and other visual cues are used to help structure the learning environment for students with autism. TEACCH is usually conducted in a classroom setting under the direction of trained special education teachers, psychologists, and speech therapists.

Social Stories

Social Stories are a tool developed by Carol Gray in order to teach children with autism about social situations and expectations. They are short stories written to address a particular situation that a child with autism may find difficult or confusing. The purpose of Social Stories is not to change behavior, but rather to expose the child to the situation in a non-threatening manner. Here is an example of a Social Story that I wrote for a child about raising her hand in class.


Raising My Hand

Sometimes at school I have to raise my hand before I speak.

I raise my hand when I want to answer my teacher’s question.

I raise my hand when I need my teacher’s help.

I raise my hand quietly and wait to be called on before I talk.

This makes my teacher happy because it keeps my classroom quiet.

Sometimes I have to wait a little while before my teacher calls on me.

Other times, my teacher might call on someone else to answer the question. That’s okay because I will get a turn another time.

I will try to remember to raise my hand quietly when I need help from my teacher or want to answer a question.


Social stories present information in a structured and consistent manner so that children can practice the skills on their own terms. It helps children to become familiar with expectations and can help to alleviate stress due to the unknown. The story should be written from the perspective of the child and should avoid terms such as, “I always,” “I can,” or, “I will.” Instead, use terms such as, “I usually,” “I am working on,” or, “I will try.” See The Gray Center for more information on writing Social Stories.

Gluten-Free Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet

Some parents of children with autism report that their children respond well to eliminating gluten and casein from their diets. Gluten is a type of protein found in foods containing wheat, rye, and barley. Casein is found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. According to one theory, individuals with autism may experience more difficulty properly digesting gluten and casein. This may cause gastrointenstinal problems and build up peptides in the body which can alter the immune system. Medical tests can be done to determine if your child has a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, casein, or other foods.

While some parents have reported drastic improvements using a GFCF diet with their children, others have experienced no noticeable effects. Research is inconclusive regarding the benefits of a GFCF diet for children with autism and the diet is not widely accepted within the medical community. Before changing your child’s diet, consult with your pediatrician to make sure that you are providing a diet that will meet your child’s needs.


Sometimes medications may be used to treat behaviors and symptoms related to the following:
• Aggression
• Anxiety
• Attention problems
• Hyperactivity
• Impulsiveness
• Irritability
• Mood swings
• Outbursts
• Sleep disturbances
• Tantrums

Risperidone is currently the only medication approved to treat children ages 5-16 for irritability and aggression that can occur with autism.

Other Treatment Recommendations

• Provide supervised activities to practice social skills in a group setting. Teach skills such as making friends, dealing with anger, taking turns, respecting personal space, and interpreting nonverbal communication (body language/facial expressions).

• Use visual cues rather than verbal instructions.

• Be concise and brief in verbal explanations. (Don’t use too many words.)

• Use concrete and specific language when making requests.

• Allow sufficient time for children to process verbal information. Remember that a child’s vocabulary is not necessarily indicative of the language that he understands.

• Provide models and practice how to begin, maintain, and end conversations.

• Allow space for the child to be alone if needed. Remember that social contact can be challenging and children may need time alone in order to decompress or calm down if upset.

• Provide a predictable environment and routines.

• Tie the child’s interest into learning opportunities.

• Writing is often very difficult. Shorten or modify assignments to reduce writing demands. Allow use of a computer to complete written assignments.

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