Autism & Asperger’s Syndrome

Many treatments (or combinations of treatments) are used to manage Autism or Asperger's Syndrome and address a variety of conditions including social skills deficits, repetitive behaviors, and speech and gestures problems.
Autism and Aspergers Syndrome
Those affected by these conditions are often initially misdiagnosed as having other behavioral disorders like ADHD or attachment disorder.

What is Autism?

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), refers to a variety of conditions that involve social skills deficits, repetitive behaviors, and speech and gestures problems. More specifically, autism is a developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates with and relates to other people.

It is important to understand that autistic individuals typically experience developmental delays – i.e. motor development, speech, and/or coordination. More specifically, those with this disorder tend to be clumsier, more uncoordinated in movement, and more compulsive, than those without it.

What is a Spectrum Disorder?

A spectrum disorder refers to the level of functioning an individual has. In other words, if you have this disorder, you are either extremely high functioning, and able to care for yourself or will in-need of constant care for the rest of your life.

When a high level of care is needed, parents often become overwhelmed. In this case, they are unable to fully care for their loved ones without aid.  In the most severe cases, the autistic person may need direct supervision from a home health aide and a highly trained developmental pediatrician, pediatric neurologist, clinical child psychologist/psychiatrist, audiologist (hearing specialists), physical therapist, and/or speech therapist.

***It is important to note that because autism is a spectrum disorder, each individual has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses.

How Many Children Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1 in 59 children suffer from autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition, autism appears to be present in all racial, ethnic, and economic groups. Lastly, autism is 4x more common in males than in females.

What are the Possible Causes of Autism?

Autism involves many different subtypes, so the exact cause varies depending on the individual. However, a combination of genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role in its development.

When Do Autism Symptoms Typically Arise?

Autism symptoms typically arise by the age of 2, however, they can present before (18 months) or after this age, as well. It is important to note that it can be hard to diagnose autism at earlier ages. For instance, early autism symptoms may be mistaken for other conditions like normal personality characteristics or developmental delays.

How is Autism Treated?

It’s important to understand that there is currently no cure for autism. However, a variety of treatment approaches may help improve an autistic individual’s social skills and learning, along with his/her quality of life. The truth is, however, some individuals may need little-to-no treatment, while others, with more severe cases, may need lifelong intensive therapy and care.

Listed below are treatments that are commonly used to treat autism:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
One of the most common autism treatment approaches (for children and adults) is applied behavior analysis (ABA). This therapy approach uses a reward system to encourage positive behaviors.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Another approach commonly used to treat autism is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This approach is referred to as “talk therapy,” which means that sessions are geared towards helping autistic individuals connect feelings, thoughts, and behaviors together. The goal of this therapy is to help these individuals recognize negative thoughts and feelings that are possibly triggering unhealthy and destructive behaviors.

A 2010 study on autism and cognitive-behavioral therapy found that CBT may indeed help autistic individuals better manage their conditions by lowering their stress levels. Results also suggested that CBT may help autistic individuals identify other people’s emotions, so they can interact with them better.

Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy (OT) is also used to treat those with autism. This approach focuses on teaching autistic children and adults the skills they need to properly function in everyday life. An occupational therapist may be able to strengthen a child’s or adult’s fine motor skills, handwriting skills, and hygiene/self-care abilities. This specialist may also be able to teach adults independent living skills – i.e. paying bills, cooking, working, grocery shopping, cleaning, and setting a budget.

Sensory Integration Therapy (SIT)
For those with sensory issues (sight, sound, and/or smell), sensory integration therapy (SIT) is often recommended. A sensory integration therapist tries to “even out” or limit “distractions,” so the individual is able to learn healthy skills and behaviors. Some of the methods/techniques used during these therapy sessions include drawing in the sand, jumping rope, and/or meditating.

Speech Therapy
People with autism often have speech problems. As a result, speech therapy is often recommended. Speech therapists help autistic people speak more clearly by teaching them better verbal skills. This type of therapy is usually performed by an occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist.

The goal of this therapy is to help adults, and especially children, improve their speech (rate and rhythm) and use words in the proper way. It is also used to help both children and adults with speech issues better verbalize their thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and feelings.

Social Skills Training
Social skills training (SST) is a way for those with autism, especially children, develop the skills needed to properly interact with others. For some, socializing can be very challenging, thus, limiting their ability to make and retain friends and have romantic relationships. So, social skills trainers teach those with autism how to how to start and continue conversations, recognize humor, and read emotional cues or non-verbal gestures.

Note: This training is usually recommended for children, however, it has also proven to be effective for teens and young adults.

Another treatment sometimes used for autism is medication. The truth is there are currently no medications specifically designed to treat autism. But, there are a variety of medications that may reduce certain autism symptoms.

Medications used to help manage autism include:

  • Antipsychotics
  • Anti-anxiety meds
  • Antidepressants
  • Stimulants
  • Anticonvulsants

Alternative Treatments
Although not as popular as more traditional autism treatments, alternative treatments may be beneficial for some autistic individuals, when used in conjunction with their prescribed treatment plans. It is important to understand, however, that studies supporting these treatments are severely limited at this time.

The few studies that have been conducted on autism and alternative treatments remains inconclusive when it comes to their effectiveness. More so, a couple of studies have found that alternative treatments sometimes used for autism like chelation therapy (the removal of metals from the body) may actually do more harm than good.

Note: Consult your physician before substituting or adding alternative treatments to an autism maintenance regimen.

Alternative treatments sometimes used to manage autism symptoms include:  

  • Specialized Diets – i.e. Gluten-Free and/or Casein-Free
  • Weighted Blankets
  • Melatonin Supplements
  • Vitamin C
  • Omega-3
  • Dimethylglycine
  • Vitamin B6 with Magnesium
  • Oxytocin
  • CBD oil

What is Asperger’s Syndrome?

Asperger’s Syndrome is characterized as a “high-functioning” subtype of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). What does that mean? Well, it means that Asperger’s symptoms tend to be “less severe” than in other types of spectrum disorders. People who have Asperger’s syndrome usually measure at the “higher end” of the spectrum, when it comes to being able to function on a daily basis and live independently.

In addition, these individuals usually don’t have as many speech and motor skill problems, like those with autism. Moreover, they tend to have at least an average intelligence, with many being above average. Furthermore, these children often show interests in complicated patterns, images, and activities.

How Many People Have Asperger’s Syndrome?

Because Asperger’s syndrome falls under autism, its statistics are linked to autism statistics. Therefore, it is estimated that approximately 1 in 59 children have Asperger’s syndrome. In addition, the CDC estimates that approximately 3.5 million Americans have Asperger’s syndrome. And, according to Dr. Tony Attwood, a British psychologist, and Asperger’s syndrome specialist, approximately 50% of people with Asperger’s syndrome are undiagnosed. Why is that? Well, partly because Asperger’s syndrome traits are not as publicized and studied, as autism’s.

When Do Asperger’s Syndrome Symptoms Typically Arise?

Like autism, Asperger’s syndrome symptoms typically arise by the age of 2, however, they can present before (18 months) or after this age, as well. It is important to note that it can be hard to diagnose Asperger’s syndrome at earlier ages.

What are the Possible Causes of Asperger’s Syndrome?

Similar to autism, Asperger’ss syndrome the exact cause varies depending on the individual. However, a combination of genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role in its development.

What are Common Asperger’s Syndrome Symptoms?

The following behaviors are often associated with Asperger’s syndrome:

  • Robotic or choppy speech patterns
  • Inappropriate social exchanges or interactions
  • Challenges understanding facial expressions and/or gestures
  • Sociopathic behaviors
  • An inability to understand or express complicated emotional behaviors
  • Poor eye contact
  • An inability to pay attention for a prolonged time
  • Obsessive about certain topics
  • Awkward movements
  • Not knowing what to say or how to respond when someone talks to him/her

How Long Does It  Typically Take to Diagnosis Asperger’s Syndrome?

It normally takes between 5 and 6 years to officially diagnosis a person with Asperger’s syndrome.

What Techniques are Commonly Used to Treat Asperger’s Syndrome?

Although Asperger’s syndrome is treated in a similar manner as autism, there are some treatment additions that may be beneficial for those, who suffer from this condition.

Note: ABA training, relationship development intervention (RDI)m and sensory therapy can also be used to treat those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), because Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism.

Treatments Commonly Used to Manage Asperger’s Syndrome Symptoms:

ABA Training
The most common treatment approach for Asperger’s syndrome is applied behavior analysis (ABA) training. In fact, 46 states require health insurers to cover ABA training for autism and Asperger’s syndrome.

ABA is based on the idea that people are more likely to repeat behaviors that are rewarded or perceived as a reward. On the flip side, ABA trainers believe that behaviors that receive no acknowledgment or reward are more prone to present little-to-no response.

The main benefit of ABA is that it may help autistic children (and adults) develop basic life skills and decrease the likelihood of negative behaviors like slapping, head banging, throwing, kicking, and screaming.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
Another treatment commonly used to treat Asperger’s syndrome is relationship development intervention (RDI). Keep in mind that RDI training is relatively new in the field of autism and Asperger’s syndrome treatments.

The goal of this treatment is to teach children how to engage in healthy conversations and have positive social interactions with other people – behaviors that people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome have a hard time doing.

Another benefit of RDI training is that it teaches parents how to use opportunities — both good and bad — as “teachable moments.” These moments are then turned into engagement activities between parents and their children, while the children learn more appropriate social skills.

Sensory Therapy
Lastly, some doctors refer patients with Asperger’s syndrome to a sensory therapist. Sensory therapy is designed to help a child regulate his/her response to external stimuli (i.e. being in large crowds, hearing a car backfire, listening to fireworks, being in a crowded restaurant or classroom, feeling the water on his/her skin as he/she bathes, being hugged and kissed by loved ones, etc.). The purpose of this therapy is to help children (and adults) adapt to or become more accustomed to real-world stimuli.

Should I Hire a Therapist or Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome?

Yes – if you or your child suffers from autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Why? Because both conditions can put a heavy strain on romantic relationships, familial relationships, and friendships. It can also affect the self-esteem and self-confidence of a person with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

That is why hiring a therapist can be beneficial. A therapist can help the child or adult change “abnormal” behaviors, while potentially moving him or her up the spectrum. Why is that important? Well, because one’s place on the spectrum determines how functionally he/she is in everyday life.

You want your child to be as high as possible on the spectrum, so he/she can become more independent. Keep in mind, however, that both autism and Asperger’s syndrome take a while to fully present, so having a specialist who can help you and your child better understand the condition, and guide you both through the treatment process is extremely important.  Find a therapist in the TherapyTribe directory that can help with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

What Should I Look for in Autism or Asperger’s Therapist?

As with any physical or mental health condition, it’s always important to find a highly trained doctor or specialist to treat autism or Asperger’s syndrome. It’s also important to remember that these are highly specialized medical conditions, so extensive knowledge and experience in this area is paramount and can make a huge difference during the treatment process.

Moreover, due to the complexity and time-consuming nature of the treatments, it’s necessary to find a doctor that will really listen to your loved one’s concerns, questions, and fears. The good news is that with proper treatment, those suffering from spectrum disorders can gain a sense of “normalcy.” In addition, many are able to go on to live independently.


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