Autism FAQ - Treatment
See also the comments below under
There is no standard, universally accepted treatment of autism; in
fact, every single method has its detractors. General approaches
may be summarized as follows:
- Biochemical (food allergies, medication, food and vitamin
- Neurosensory (sensorial integration, over stimulation and
patterning, auditory training, facilitated communication, daily life
- Psycho-dynamic (holding therapy, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis,
option institute(which also falls in behavioral))
- Behavioral (Discrete trials (Lovaas and others), behavior
modification with and without aversives, TEACCH)
Note: Many of the programs mentioned above also use other approaches
to some degree and an attempt was made to place them in the most
The literature seems to show that food allergies and the possibility
of candida should be checked immediately because a significant number
of children may be autistic because of these problems which can be
controlled through drugs or diet. As far as other kinds of drug
therapy are concerned, there is no drug that is universally
successful in treating autistic symptoms and that in some cases
usually useful drugs may produce negative results and vice-versa.
Vitamin B6 with magnesium and some other vitamins and DMG produce
positive results in many cases.
Any educational program (SI,AIT, psychotherapy, behavioral, etc), if
done intensively, produces some positive results. There are rare
cases of recovery claimed by every educational method. In addition,
some methods have been reported by parents as producing negative
Behavioral approaches are backed by scientific studies as well as
anecdotal evidence. The best known, because of the amount of related
scientific literature, are Lovaas' version of discrete trial and the
North Carolina TEACCH programs. Both are very structured programs
with a lot of positive reinforcement, two factors which seem to
Clearly, it is important to have centers of expertise for PDD,
autism, and related disorders in order to help families and school
boards in experimenting and choosing the right therapy for each
Note: this list is far from complete at this time and misses some
- Vitamin B6
- Some have attributed some success in reducing the
characteristic symptoms of autistics through the ingestion of large
amounts of Vitamin B6. Bernard Rimland pursued this line of
investigation. Magnesium is given with it. I think the
reason is that high vitamin B6 tends to deplete the body's
magnesium. Suggestions have been that it reduces hyperactivity
and obsessive/compulsive behaviors.
To make it usable with small children, at least one company provides
it in powder form.
- dimethylglycine (DMG)
- Bernard Rimland pursued this line of
investigation. Suggestions are that it sometimes helps autistics
with speech & with their attention span. DMG does not require
a prescription in the US, being considered a food supplement (once
called vitamin B-16, but it was ruled not a vitamin because no
specific medical problem is associated with a deficiency of it.)
The health food store people say that it is supposed to increase
"oxygen uptake" by the blood stream and athletes sometimes take it
for that reason.
- Eliminating dietary gluten/casein
- For some children, the effects of
this intervention are obvious to their parents within hours or
days. Children who seem to respond most dramatically to the
removal of dairy have a history of ear infections, inconsolable
crying, poor sleeping patterns, and excessive craving of milk and
dairy foods. Gluten intolerance is generally indicated by loose
stools and/or a craving for bread and pasta. This is a relatively
harmless intervention and should be attempted as soon as possible,
to see if a child does respond. If so, further exploration into
biochemical treatment is recommended.
- A drug that decreases blood serotonin concentrations.
Some autistics have abnormally high blood serotonin concentrations
so experiments were carried out to see if this drug affected the
behavior of such autistics (or other autistics). Some success was
reported. Dr. Edward R. Ritvo pursued this line of research.
- Periactin (AKA cyproheptadine)
- Another drug that decreases
serotonin concentrations. This drug is normally used as an
antihistamine but because of its additional affect on serotonin,
has been tried on autistics.
- Has shown promise in helping autistic children become
more talkative, sociable, less aggressive and have an increased
attention span. Available without prescription.
- Auditory Integration Training (AIT)
- A method of changing a person's
sensitivity to sound at different frequencies. It was originally
developed to combat the onset of some kinds of deafness, but was
tried on an autistic child and cured her. Since then it has not
produced any cures, but has been credited with success in reducing
some of the symptoms of some children. In particular, some
autistic children show a strong aversion to some sounds, and with
Auditory Integration Training have lost their aversion and exhibited
other reductions in the symptoms of autism. There are two methods
of AIT, the Tomatis and the Berrard. They are different enough
that they should perhaps be considered different therapies.
- Tomatis Method
- A kind of AIT developed by Alfred Tomatis. Over
several weeks, the person listens to classical music with the low
frequencies filtered out. Over time, voices (also filtered) are
introduced, then the missing frequencies. Treatment requires
weeks, typically 2 hours of listening a day.
- Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT)
- A method of helping people who
are her oversensitive to the 5 senses by overwhelming them
with sensory experiences, e.g. swing them, roll them, get them
jumping and spinning. Usually provided by occupational
therapists who have learned the method.
- Holding Therapy
- Martha Welch is the primary proponent who argues
that autism results from a failure to bond with the child. The
child is forcibly held by the mother. Both Temple Grandin and
Bernard Rimland have argued that it provides sensory stimulation
and the psychogenic basis is erroneous. Temple Grandin has stated
that forced holding is not necessary. under such a theory, Holding
Therapy can be classified as a kind of sensory stimulation.
- Behavioral Therapy
- (also "Lovaas Method", "Behavioral Intervention",
"Applied Behavioral Analysis" (ABA), "Discrete Trial Training"
(DTT)) Use of behavior modification (a.k.a. operant conditioning)
which was originally developed by B.F. Skinner (a prime developer
of Behavioral Psychology) outside the purvue of autism. Lovaas and
other psychologists adapted it as a therapy/educational method for
autistic children, and it is his adaptation which is
known as The Lovaas Method or DTT.
Catherine Maurice's book Let Me Hear Your
Voice is an account of two children recovering from Autism through
use of this method, and Lovaas's The Me Book
Maurice's Behavioral Intervention for Young Children With Autism
are a widely used
handbooks for this type of method. Behavioral Therapy now has a lot
of adherents who are vociferous in their claims that it is the only
method with a study (complete with control group) documenting its
success rate. The study is documented in Lovaas's paper
"Behavioral Treatment of Normal Educational and Intellectual
Functioning in Young Autistic Children". Detractors of the method
claim that participants of the study were not truly autistic, that
the children are turned into robots, and that the method is
dehumanizing and severe. The method also arouses controversy
in cases where adherents use of punishment &
aversives to decrease self-destructive behaviors. (See more
complete citations to the above-mentioned books and paper in
the section below: "Bibliography").
- Term for employment of punishment.
One class of aversive would be physical pain though the term is not
specific to that. Use of aversives in the treatment of autistic or any
children is a very controversial topic (see
Many condemn all use (or probably more specifically, all
use of pain as an aversive) and some say there are alternatives
that are always equally or more effective.
Proponents say selected employment has produced
immediate positive results that has saved the lives of
autistic children inclined to continuous self-injurious behavior
who have resisted all the non-aversive alternatives.
They also say experience has shown that the degree of pain required is
often so little as to defy logic: a very slight pain or something not
painful can often stop a child from engaging in very painful
- Natural Language Paradigm (NLP)
- A behavior intervention, thus
could be classed with the Lovaas method, though there are
differences. A source of information on it is Koegel & Koegel's
book. A newer name for this is "Pivotal Response Training".
- Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
- Newer name for "Natural Language
- Irlen Lenses
- Developed to treat dyslexia and other learning
disabilities, the use of coloured lenses to treat the visual
processing difficulties of people with autism is relatively new
(1994). It has been popularized by Donna Williams (author of
Nobody Nowhere and Somebody Somewhere).
- Prism Lenses
- Lenses in glasses that are prisms: thicker at one edge
than the opposite edge.
- Social skills training and social stories
- Teaching verbal
individuals (including those called "high functioning" and
"Asperger's") many of the unwritten social rules and body language
signals that people use in social interaction and conversation.
Carol Gray uses a technique called "social stories" to help
illustrate these social rules in a variety of situations and
appropriate responses. Social stories and "scripting" are also
used with nonverbal individuals to teach appropriate responses and
prepare the individual for transitions. In very young child, they
may be in the form of photographs or pictures.
- Anafranil (cloripramine)
- a tricyclic antidepressant which may relieve
some symptoms of autism.
- a tricyclic antidepressant.
- Zoloft (sertraline)
- Second-generation antidepressant (SSRI, or selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Studies on SSRIs reveal significant
improvement in perseverative behaviors and some other autistic
spectrum symptoms (social withdrawal, behavioral rigidity, etc.).
- Ritalin (methylphenidate)
- one of a group of stimulants which
include amphetamine, amantidine and fenfluramine.
it can sometimes
be very effective for certain hyperactive children (so much so that
it gets overused for others). See also "Dexedrine".
- Ritalin SR
- used to treat ADD and ADHD in the same way as Ritalin.
Likely used less than Ritalin because its name is associated with drug
abuse. One develops a tolerance for both drugs so that increases
in dosage over time are often necessary to maintain their effect.
- a lot of treatments on this list come under the general
heading of psychology (in its most general sense, perhaps all do).
There are parents of autistic children for whom "psychology" is a
dirty word because they associate it with theories and treatments
of autism which hypothesize bad parenting, e.g. lack of bonding
between mother and child (see
"History" section below). Treatments
associated with such theories include Psychotherapy and Holding
Therapy. Other therapies in this list (such as Behavioral Therapy)
clearly fall under the heading of Psychology, yet are certainly not
predicated on any "bad parenting" theory.
- See "Psychology" above, and
"History" section below.
- Psychodynamic Therapy/Psycho-dynamic Therapy
- I'm not certain
whether this term is used for a specific therapy, but I've seen it
used for what might be termed Psychotherapy and related kinds of
therapy. (see "Psychology" above and
"History" section below).
- SRRI "Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor"
- A class of psychoactive drugs that includes
Prozac, Zoloft, Luvox, and Paxil (paroxetine), part of a larger
class of such drugs that also includes non-selective serotonin
Serotonin is a brain chemical released by neurons and "reuptaken" by neurons.
- Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Also an SRRI (see Zoloft). Studies have been done.
- From American Health October, 1993: Washington:
Psychiatrists at the National Institute of Mental Health have found
that clomipramine, an antidepressant, also relieves many of the
symptoms of autism, a severe developmental disorder. Patients'
ability to interact with others is much improved.
- Normally used to regulate blood pressure and perhaps
other purposes. It is used for ADD children at suppertime or
bedtime to help them attend to evening activities and to settle
down sufficiently to get enough sleep.
- Dilantin (phenytoin)
- an anti-convulsant used for seizures when
others do not work. It is usually avoided in children due to
possible serious side effects during development.
- a salt used primarily to treat bipolar disorder, also used
in other, possibly related conditions including autism.
- ? (oral version of naloxone) a narcotic antagonist
reported by Lensing & Panksepp to have a dramatic and global effect
on autism. Hypothesis: In the late 70's and early 80's several of
scientists suggested that the behavior of some autistic individuals
sometimes resembles the behavior of people stoned on hard drugs
(heroin, morphine, etc): little sociability, fixes on strange
objects, little or no pain sensation, no interest in life, states
of euphoria, etc. It was suggested that perhaps these autistic
individuals have, for whatever reason, an excess of pleasure,
painkilling hormones in the brain such as endorphines to which they
are addicted (like joggers to joggers' high which is produced by
endorphines). As a result they may require/desire a minimum dose
every day and that the self-stim and/or auto-aggression may be ways
to produce these hormones and satisfy the craving. Naltrexone's
effect: Naltrexone blocks the effects of drugs such as heroin and
morphine on the brain and has been used since the early 70's for
drug addicts. Therefore, naltrexone should also block the effects
of the natural hormones such as endorphines. (Morphine apparently
is very close in structure to and simulates the endorphines.). A
number of very well controlled studies on the effect of naltrexone
on autistic traits and deficiencies have been published. Nearly
all indicate some positive results for many of the test subjects:
less auto-aggression, less hyperactivity, more sociability, more
communication, etc. Not all the studies report all of these
effects but most report some positives.
- Play Therapy
- Roughly consists of therapist playing with child while talking
to the child and trying to induce the child to talk.
The goal is to help the child acquire language and the working
knowledge of every day life we all require.
The method is to use play, which is a component of a typical
child's language acquisition, in conjunction with constant
interaction with a therapist.
Play therapy has been used for autistic children and children
with emotional disturbances.
- A hormone that has a role in the immune system and in
controlling ones sleepcycle. It is sometimes given to children
who have trouble sleeping at night. For that reason and others,
it has been tried on Autistic children. Lately a lot of claims
have been made about the benefits of melatonin for a variety
- Haldol (haloperidol)
- a neuroleptic which is used to abate symptoms of
- the trade name for Naltrexone.
- Vision Integration Therapy
- Craniel Sacral Therapy
- a form of myofacial release performed by
physical therapists and osteopaths.
- Cognative approaches
- Luvox (fluxovamine)
- Antidepressant which is being used for obsessive
compulsive disorder and in some cases autism.
- a steroid. It and other steroids are used when Landau
Kleffner Syndrome is suspected, but there have been reports of
children responding to steroids even though they don't have the
classic EEG findings of LKS and their language disability was
- EPD (Enzyme Potentiated Desensitization) shots
- Sort of homeopathic
brew of stuff that your allegric/sensitive to and it is given in
shot form once every 6-8 weeks. It is being used for people with
multiple chemical/environmental sensitivities/ADD/ADHD/Autism.
- brain stimulation activities for brain-injured
children developed by Glenn Doman and Carl Delacatto. It involves
cross-patterning, patterning and sensory exercises developed to
enhance memory and processing.
- Dolphin Therapy (or Dolphin-Assisted Therapy)
- I can't give details,
but involves being in a tank with a dolphin or dolphins. Used for
Autism, Down's Syndrome, ADD, Muscular Dystrophy and spinal cord
injuries among other disabilities. Researchers in the field include
Dr. Betsy Smith (Florida International University) and Dr. John
- Therapy Dogs
- experimental therapy to see if teaching children with disabilities to
learn typical human/pet interaction is of use.
- Risperdol (risperidone)
- (Risperdal?) anti-dopanine agent which also works
- Epsom Salt Baths
- see Phenolsulphertransferase (PST) deficiency in
"Theories and Causes".
- Dimethyl Amino Ethanol (DMAE)
- A food substance (abundant in fish)
said to effect mood, memory, and learning.
Sold as a nutritional supplement by some health-food outfits.
- Ginko Bilboa supplements
- Cranio-Scaral Therapy
- Involves unlocking certain areas in the body
that are blocked in order for the cerebral spinal fluid to flow
correctly. Among the practicioners are some chiropractors.
- Drug used to prevent seizures, also sometimes used for
- Nizoral (ketoconazole)
- Anitfungal medication used in the treatment
of candida and other yeast infections.
- Anitfungal medication used in the treatment of candida and
other yeast infections.
- Folic Acid
- Eliminating dietary yeast
- Music Therapy
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IGIV, IgIV, or IVIG)
- IV solution something like a blood transfusion, but
uses only a solution made from donated blood rather than whole blood.
Used to address certain immune-system problems.
- Intravenous Gamma Globulin (IVIgG)
- A treatment for autism based
upon the theory that autism can be caused by an autoimmune condition
in the brain. The treatment is generally confined to patients who
show a positive response to Myelin Basic Protein, a protein
component of brain myelin.
- Clonazepam (Klonopin)
- Drug used to treat hyperactivity.
- MST Surgery
- Surgery typically done for LKS children, but has been used with
autistic children for whom intractible seizures appear to be a cause.
- Secretin infusion
- Experimental treatment reported to have helped autistic
children. Secretin is a hormone involved in digestion.
- Intervention method developed by Stanley Greenspan for
developmentally disabled children including autistic children.
Stanley Greenspan has a series of books including
The Challenging Child and
The Child With Special Needs.
complete citations to the above-mentioned books and paper in
the section below: "Bibliography").