The course of autism varies as the person ages. The goal of therapy should be to improve useful communication. For some, verbal communication is a realistic goal. For others, the goal may be gestured communication. Still others may have the goal of communicating by means of a symbol system such as picture boards. Treatment should include periodic in-depth evaluations provided by an individual with special training in the evaluation and treatment of speech and language disorders, such as a speech-language pathologist. Occupational and physical therapists may also work with the individual to reduce unwanted behaviors that may interfere with the development of communication skills.
Some individuals with autism respond well to highly structured behavior modification programs; others respond better to in-home therapy that uses real situations as the basis for training. Other approaches such as music therapy and sensory integration therapy, which strives to improve the child’s ability to respond to information from the senses, appear to have helped some autistic children, although research on the efficacy of these approaches is largely lacking.
Medications may improve the attention span of an autistic individual or reduce unwanted behaviors such as hand-flapping, but long-term use of these kinds of medications is often difficult or undesirable because of their side effects. No medications have been found to specifically help communication in autistic individuals. Mineral and vitamin supplements, special diets, and psychotherapy have also been used, but research has not documented their effectiveness.