The first step in treating autism is developing an understanding of what autism is. One out of every 150 births is estimated to result in a child affected by this neurological "spectrum disorder". This disorder affects the normal functions of the brain that impact social interaction and communication skills.
Autism is considered a "spectrum disorder" because it has the ability to affect each individual differently, resulting in various combinations of behavior issues with varying degrees of severity. This results in children displaying different levels of autism and is reflected in the various references to the disorder such as autistic tendencies, high or low-functioning autism and more or less enabled. It is important that anyone interested in treating autism not pay too close attention to the term used to define a child's specific level of autism, as every child has the ability to improve their condition with treatment and education.
The symptoms of Autism disorders are varied and are often times confused with symptoms of Asperger's Disorder. Although both disorders fall under the larger umbrella of "Pervasive Developmental Disorders" and share some of the same traits, each is a very different disorder. Where autism is a neurological disorder, Asperger's sufferers show far fewer neurological problems than their autism counterparts. They also display a higher verbal IQ than performance IQ in testing, the exact opposite of autistic IQ testing results. These differences between these disorders are very important to those developing ways to treat autism, as different approaches are needed for each disorder.
The main goal in treating autism is to provide an autistic child with the ability to function within their environment. Often times various types of treatment are used in combination to help them achieve this. Treatments such as behavior modification, communication therapy and dietary modifications are used to help improve the mental and physical symptoms of autism. The most common type of treatment is based on applied behavior analysis. This theory is based upon the idea that behavior that is rewarded is more likely to be repeated then behavior that is ignored. This type of treatment directly addresses the obsessive and repetitive tendencies of autistic spectrum disorders.
In addition to obsessive behaviors, most autistic children show great resistance to change. The combination of these two behaviors results in a very great need for structure in their lives. Using behavior modification techniques that are highly-structured and skill-oriented can greatly improve an autistic child's chance of improvement. The more controlled the treatment, the better the child will cope with it. Part of the treatment is also controlling the environment the treatment is conducted in. To ease the obsessive behavior and resistance to any type of change, intense one-on-one treatment and extensive caregiver participation is best.
The most important thing in treating autism is to recognize that each child, while having the same diagnosis, will exhibit very different symptoms. Each path of treatment will vary but will need to incorporate the basic needs of autism sufferers, such as routine and scheduling, as well as the needs of each individual child.