Guide The World of the Autistic Child : Understanding and Treating Autistic Spectrum Disorders

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Special ASD checkups are needed at:.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Treatment

At regular checkups, the doctor will check how your baby responds to your voice, smile, or other expressions. Is he cooing or babbling? Problems or delays in speech call for a visit to a speech therapist. A hearing test may be needed, too. Most children with autism will eventually speak, but they do so later than others. Making conversation may be especially tough. Children with ASDs also may speak in a sing-song or robotic way.

Trouble relating to other people is an important marker of an autism spectrum disorder. A psychologist with special training can help identify social problems as early as possible. Children may avoid looking people in the eye, including their parents.

Your Child

They may focus intently on an object, while ignoring others around them for long periods of time. They may not use gestures, body posture, or facial expressions to communicate. There's no medical test for autism, but exams may be helpful to rule out hearing loss, speech difficulties, lead poisoning, or developmental problems not related to autism. Parents may need to answer a list of questions -- called a screening tool -- to assess a child's behavior and communication skills.

Getting treatment early, ideally before age three, can greatly improve a child's development. In fact, they may have advanced verbal skills. But they can be socially awkward and have trouble understanding nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions. They may focus intensely on one topic that interests them but have trouble making friends or relating to people. Behavioral therapies are widely used to help children with ASDs learn to talk and communicate, develop physically, and deal with other people more effectively. Step by step, these intensive programs -- called Applied Behavior Analysis ABA -- encourage positive actions and discourage negative behaviors.

Another approach, called Floortime, works on emotions and social skills. Local school systems may provide special services to help a child with autism learn and develop. This can include speech therapy and occupational therapy. Children with autism may qualify for early intervention or extended school year services. If you are concerned about your child, be an advocate and ask the school to develop an IEP. There's no medical treatment for autism itself, but medicine may help with some symptoms. Anti-psychotic medicines may be given for serious behavior problems.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

One drug in this category, risperidone Risperdal , has FDA approval to help with aggression, self-injury, and tantrums in autistic children. And aripiprazole Abilify is indicated by the FDA for irritability in people with autism. If seizures are an issue, an anti-convulsant drug may help. Drugs that treat depression are sometimes prescribed. Children with autism may be extremely sensitive to sounds, touch, taste, sights, or smells — similar to a condition known as sensory processing disorder.

For example, they may be upset by bright flashing lights or a school bell.

Risk of Depression and Anxiety

A small study by Temple University researchers found that helping children adjust to different sensations led to fewer autistic mannerisms and better behavior. Even nonverbal children can talk with new devices that are designed to convert pictures or text to spoken words.

The technology includes pocket-sized devices and "apps" for smart phones or computer tablets. Autism Speaks , an advocacy organization, maintains a list of resources for families. Some parents have tried a diet free of gluten found in wheat and casein a milk protein.

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Other diet changes, including the supplements B6 and magnesium, have been used. So far, there's not enough evidence to show that any diet plan works.

A doctor should supervise trial diets to ensure good nutrition. The internet is full of unusual treatments for autism offered to desperate parents. To learn if a treatment is safe and effective, first check with your child's health care team. The Autism Society of America has a good list of questions parents can ask providers of new or unorthodox treatments. Some can be dangerous, including chelation therapy. Scientists don't know the exact cause of autism, but since it runs in families, genes probably play a role.

Research is under way to see whether chemicals in the environment or infections before birth are to blame. Autism is more common among people with other genetic disorders, such as Fragile X and tuberous sclerosis. Taking valproic acid or thalidomide during pregnancy increases the child's risk for an ASD. No link has been found between vaccines and autism, despite many scientific studies. Parents of children with autism need guidance in understanding their child's condition. Clinicians also need help in this area. Parents are often very well informed about standard and alternative treatments, and expect their physician to be able to advise them in their decisions related to the child's care and to advocate for them with schools and insurance companies.

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