Treatment Approaches to Autism
The purpose of this paper is to introduce and analyze the topic of autism. Specifically it will discuss the disease and treatment approaches to the disease. Autism is a disease that has no cure, even though research is working on understanding and thus curing the disease. It affects one in every 150 individuals, making it one of the most common diseases in the world. It usually begins to show symptoms in the first three years of life, and is the outcome of a "neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills" ("About autism," 2005). Children with autism often employ rhythmic and recurring or "stereotypical" motions, they resist any type of modification or change in their environment or their daily habits, and they often show uncharacteristic reactions to sensory events (Turnbull et al., 2003, p. 284).
The Autism Society of America (ASA) estimates at least 1.5 million Americans suffer from the disease, and a majority of these sufferers are children with boys four times more apt to suffer from the disease. In addition, the disease is on the rise, and some researchers estimate that by 2017 there could be as many as 4 million Americans suffering from autism ("About autism," 2005). While researchers still do not know how to control or cure the disease, they know it is caused by "brain or biochemical dysfunction before, during, or after birth" (Turnbull et al., 2003, p. 289). Autism can also be caused by abnormalities in the brain's development, and biomedical research continues into the causes of autism, because before a cure can be found, scientists must fully understand the causes of the disease. The disease affects the entire family, as the child is often unable to communicate effectively, will require special schooling and care for their entire lives, and will have difficulty maintaining meaningful relationships with peers, educators, and even their own family. Because autism is beginning to become so prevalent in children, researchers have been trying to find new ways to help children with autism, and new types of autism treatments. Some of these treatments include drug, vitamin/mineral, holding CranioSacral and music therapies. However, it must be remembered that there is no cure for autism, and often treatment is not successful in reducing the affects of the disease.
Drug therapies for autism include many common drugs that are used to treat other symptoms, such as depression and hyperactivity in children and adults. A wide variety of different types of drugs can be used, including antidepressants, Benzodiazepines, and Antipsychotic medications. Each can treat specific symptoms of autism, and some can be used in concert with each other for better results. Success rates for each of these types of drugs differ, because much depends on the patient, how they react to the drugs, and how intense their specific symptoms are. As one autism expert notes,
Optimal treatment results will be achieved only when the physician knows the child's diagnosis, severity and stage of the problem or disorder, presence of concurrent disorders or medication treatment, as well as the sources of variation in response to medications and predefined goals of acceptable efficacy and toxicity (Tsai, 2005, p. 411).
Thus, what works extremely well on one autism patient may not work in another, which is why there are so many different types of drugs and drug categories used in the treatment of autism in both children and adults.
Antidepressants include many well-known prescription drugs, such as Wellbutrin and Prozac. They are especially useful in helping to eliminate at least some repetitive behavior, reducing aggression, tantrums, and bad temper, and improving awareness and eye contact. However, they can create side effects from drowsiness and dizziness to insomnia and headaches. Some of the most common antidepressants used in the treatment of autism include:
Benzodiazepines are used to treat a variety of behavioral problems in autism, and they can also be used to treat depression and anxiety in children and adults. Side effects of these drugs can include dizziness, lack of muscle coordination, sleepiness and fatigue. The biggest problem with these drugs is that stopping the use of these drugs after long-term prescription can cause a variety of withdrawal systems such as vomiting, convulsions, sweating, and insomnia. The most well-known drugs in this category include:
Antipsychotic medications can help reduce aggression, withdrawal, hyperactivity, and behavioral problems. There are many side effects, including headache, sedation, dizziness, insomnia, agitation and anxiety. Some of the drugs in the category include:
Stimulants can help increase concentration and reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity in many high-functioning autism sufferers. They can also result in many side effects, such as high blood pressure, rapid heart beat, loss of appetite, nervousness, and insomnia. The user can also develop dependence on these types of drugs. They include:
Dextroamphetamine (Dexedine) ("Autism - treatment, prognosis," 2007).
While drug therapies can help some patients lead more productive and fulfilling lives, they do not cure the disease, and most do not work on all the symptoms an autistic patient may experience. In fact, many drug studies and therapies have been disappointing, at best. Another expert notes, "Over the past decades, unfortunately, little progress has been made in developing new and effective pharmacotherapies for autism" (Buitelaar, 2003, p. 242). Most of the drugs used today were developed for other diseases and disorders, and research into autistic-specific drugs continues.
Vitamin/mineral therapies for autism are very controversial, and many experts do no believe they are a valid form of treatment. For one reason, autism is not caused by diet, and so, they do not believe diet can have any true affect on the disease. However, some vitamins and minerals have been shown to have at least some affect on at least some symptoms of the disease. Another expert writes, "Various dietary and medical interventions have also been proposed. Amongst the most recent of these are the reduction of mercury levels in the child's body plus a 36 ingredient vitamin/mineral/antioxidant supplement or secretin infusions" (Howlin, 2003, p. 252) One autism Web site notes,
Studies have shown that vitamin B, magnesium (improves the effects of vitamin B), and cod liver oil supplements (which contain vitamins a and D) may improve behavior, eye contact, attention span, and learning in autistic patients. Vitamin C has been shown to improve depression and lessen the severity of symptoms in patients with autism ("Autism - treatment, prognosis," 2007).
Unfortunately, there is little evidence these vitamin/mineral therapies actually work in the end, and most experts do not recommend them because they lack long-term effect data, and they have not been proven to make a different. Vitamins do not require a prescription, and they could help children with learning and attention problems, if administered correctly, and so, they are popular with some parents who do not want to use more potent prescription drugs on their children. There are ongoing studies that target vitamins, specifically vitamin B and magnesium, although the results are not yet conclusive (Schoen, 2003).
Holding Therapy is another of the more controversial therapies devised for treatment of autism. Some experts do not approve of the method at all, while others maintain it is a sound way to build bonds and help control outbursts and acting out. Another expert writes, "Holding Therapy, for example, attempts to build a bond between the child with autism and the parent/guardian. The caregiver is advised to hold the infant very closely and tightly as s / he speaks in a comforting tone, even when the child tries to escape the embrace" (Schoen, 2003). This technique seems simple, but there are many autism experts that believe it can be detrimental to the child.
For example, one writer who suffers from Asperger syndrome, one of the spectrum of Autistic diseases, was "shocked" when she found that holding therapy was still being used on autistic children. She writes, "I believe that forced holding is not only not 'therapy', it is a form of abuse" (Sainsbury, 2007). I her experience, holding an autistic child when the child does not want to be held creates pain and terror, rather than feelings of safety and bonding, which most proponents of holding therapy tout as results of the practice. In fact, many experts believe the child finally submits to the therapy not because it is working, but because they are exhausted from fighting the therapy (Sainsbury, 2007). One young mother's experience seems to point to this conclusion. She writes, held him firmly and waited. He looked up at me, and his large, round green eyes penetrated mine. Suddenly his hand rose to touch my face. I shivered -- he was seven months old and he had never come this close before. Yet within the instant his hand flew…