Treatment and Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder
No ‘one size fits all’ autism treatment.
At Brain Train, we meet parents every day who have become increasingly frustrated in their search for an elusive and universal ‘autism treatment’. Most of us have a very understandable expectation that modern medicine should provide a clear program of treatment for every diagnosis. And yet, following a diagnosis of autism, most parents find the array of potential treatments, interventions, and programs confusing and even overwhelming.
We can relate to that experience through our own personal experience, and that of thousands of parents we have met on the same journey. So, let’s dive into this question of “what is the best treatment for autism”, share some of what the research tells us, and how the unique Brain Train approach draws on that research while individualising it in recognition that each child’s situation, strengths, and opportunities are different
No matter the age, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
It is important to acknowledge that autism remains a highly complex and challenging condition to address, and consequently, there is no one standardised treatment for autism spectrum disorder. That said, the very encouraging news is that there are a range of therapies and modalities that can help many of the challenges associated with autism.
Whilst the research shows that early intervention is more likely to have major positive effects, no matter the age of a person when they are diagnosed, people of all ages and levels of ability can often improve after receiving well-designed interventions.
Structured multi-disciplinary approach individualised for each child.
The most effective therapies and interventions are often different for each person. However, most people with ASD respond best to highly structured and individualised programs. Research shows that early diagnosis and interventions are more likely to have major positive effects on challenges and later skills.
Because there can be overlap in symptoms between ASD and other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it’s important that treatment focus on a person’s specific needs, be strengths- based, and be highly individualised rather than the diagnostic label.
Successful early intervention therapies for autism often focus on four primary areas:
This includes Neurodevelopment. Targeting the child’s body and brain, with research showing motor coordination deficits being pervasive across autism diagnoses and being a cardinal feature of ASD .
The child’s behaviour and behaviours are affected by the environment and the child’s physical, social and cognitive development. This is the focus of ABA, as well as other behavioural development therapies.
The child’s ability to form relationships, communicate, self-regulate and cope with emotions, with research showing children with autism have sensory and motor difficulties that have been found to impact social functioning.
The child’s ability for higher order processing, thinking and learning. This development assists in building a foundation to expand knowledge and improve problem solving by encouraging critical thinking to make decisions.
Making sense of the information overload and creating a plan to move forward.
At Brain Train we know from our own experience that choosing which autism therapy is best for your child can be a very overwhelming and confusing process. Unfortunately, unlike other areas of childhood health, an autism diagnosis doesn’t come with a ready-prepared treatment plan and a network of health professionals to help implement it. Consequently, for the most part, it is up to parents or carers to do their own research and navigate their way through the multiple available options.
When exploring therapeutic interventions for your child, there are many options to consider. Therefore, we recommend starting by making a prioritised list of your child’s needs. Take into consideration your child’s strengths and unique challenges, as well as what will work best for you and your family’s circumstances. This will serve to frame the discussions you will have with various allied health professionals and ground the process in the reality of what is unique to your child, and feasible for your family.
Intervention for autism should start as soon as possible. For some children this might mean starting at 12 months old, for others it might be five years old. The main thing is to get started as soon as issues with development are noticed. Importantly an autism diagnosis is not required to receive early intervention support. If your child is experiencing any developmental delay, they will likely benefit from early childhood intervention regardless of whether or not they are ultimately diagnosed with autism.
So, what makes a great therapeutic intervention for autism for your child?
From a technical perspective, and as prescribed by the NDIS through its practice standards, an autism therapy should:
- Be child centred and developmentally appropriate;
- Be family centered, which means the service is working towards family-based goals;
- Be evidence-based – which is a decision-making process that integrates the best available research evidence with family and professional wisdom’ . In other words, evidence-based practice involves a balance of empirically supported interventions, clinical expertise or practice wisdom, and client or family values, preferences and circumstances;
- Be individualised to the child;
- Be strengths-based and use positive reinforcement;
- Include assessments providing baseline data with progress measures;
- Provide an opportunity for regular feedback and problem solving and
- Ensure the child can practice and use new skills out in the community (not just in therapy)
Children often benefit from a range of therapies, which is called a multidisciplinary approach. When managed and coordinated effectively, this approach encourages a more functionally targeted treatment for autism, where therapists work collaboratively to achieve functional goals rather than provide a specific service. The combinations of therapies will then likely change as the child’s goals change, reinforcing the need for a highly individualised therapeutic intervention and treatment plan.
Welcome to the Brain Train way!
Brain Train was founded by the parents of Chloe, following her autism diagnosis autism, their worldwide search for more effective treatment options, and their conviction that all Australian children with autism deserved the same opportunities. We understand the frustration and dedication of parents committed to finding better autism treatment opportunities for their children, and we welcome our community of kids with autism as family.
Accordingly, Brain Train delivers integrated, individualised, evidence-informed supports and therapies for children and adults with autism, developmental and neurological differences. So everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential and live their best life….just like Chloe.
Our multi-disciplinary approach, where our therapists can help design a schedule of therapy to suit the strengths, challenges and needs of your child, include:
If you would like more information about ASD and some of the treatment pathways for autism spectrum disorder, here are some resources you may find useful.
 National Institute of Mental Health. (2011). A parent's guide to autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved March 8, 2012, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/a-parents-guide-to-autism-spectrum-disorder/index.shtml  Fournier K, A., Hass, S, K., et al, (2010) Motor Coordination in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Synthesis and Meta-analysis, J Autism Dev Discord 40(10) 1227-40  Hilton C, Graver K, LaVesser P. Relationship between social competence and sensory processing in children with high functioning autism spectrum disorder Res Autisn Spec Disord (2007) doi:10.1016/j.rasd.2006.10.002  Buysse, V., & Wesley, P. W. (2006). Evidence-Based Practice in the Early Childhood Field. ZERO TO THREE.