There is no known cure for autism. With appropriate education and support, children with ASD can develop their communication and interaction skills to become independent adults and lead productive lives. Therapies do NOT cure autism, although they bring about marked improvement.
Medication may help reduce self-injurious behaviour or associated conditions such as epilepsy. Alternative treatments such as dietary, herbal or vitamin remedies have been shown to be ineffective in controlled studies.
ASD is diagnosed when the child has impaired communication, social interaction and show repetitive behaviours.
• Impairment in communication
They may have delayed speech and language skills; or they start speaking early but with unusual language development, odd intonation (like an American-sounding child in a Mandarin-speaking family) or are obsessed with certain topics. They are also not good at starting a conversation with people.
• Impairment in social interaction and play skills
They can be oblivious to the people around them and don’t make eye contact. More often than not, they are interested in playing alone, with specific things that interest them such as trains (read about trains, play with trains and everything about trains). They may be interested to play with peers but don’t know how. So they become disruptive, rowdy or may hit others in order to get their attention. They lack imagination in their play or become rote with specific scenes and have difficulty with pretend or role-play.
• Stereotypic behaviours / patterns
They have specific repetitive behaviours such as running in circles, lining things in rows, spinning or spot jumping especially when unoccupied, bored, unhappy or upset. They can become rote in routines such as specific seats, routes and schedules. So they may not adapt well to changes in the environment or schedules. They may also be sensitive to certain stimuli such as sound, fixated with certain textures and intolerant to touch.
Educational or behaviour therapy develops an autistic child’s social and language skills through highly structured and customised training. Some of these therapies include:
Speech and Language Therapy
• Assesses a child’s receptive and expressive speech as well as language skills
• Evaluates and teaches communication skills
• Evaluates fine motor skills
• Aims to help child achieve age-appropriate fine motor and pre-writing skills
• Helps reduce sensory sensitivities
• Useful for those with poor muscle tone, co-ordination and balance
Structured Teaching (TEACCH Program)
The emphasis of the programme is using skills that the children already possess and helping them to live independently and take part in community activities. The children learn to perform tasks at special workstations with the help of schedules and visual cues.
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
This is best used for those who either does not speak properly or are unable to communicate using words. It starts with teaching the child to ask spontaneously for items or activities. This helps the child gain greater spontaneity, persistence and generalisation.
Social Stories (Carol Gray)
This teaches children desirable behaviour through specific stories with themes important to the child’s life. It involves writing, reading and talking about the stories to the child prior to the event or activity.
Sensory Integration Therapy
The child may have problems with sensory modulation, which means the child either over- or under-reacts to sensations. Sensory Integration will help the child to process facts at successive levels, using various methods such as a sensory diet, deep pressure and brushing.