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History of Autism Treatment

Autism Spectrum Disorders Defined

At least 1 in 59 children — aged 8 or under — were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2014, which was a 15 percent increase from 2012. ASD is defined as a developmental disability that is initiated by differences in the brain. While the causes for these variances in brain functioning are not yet known to scientists, differences in genetic conditions are apparent.

Moreover, this lifelong condition affects boys 3 or 4 times more than girls who also exhibit fewer symptoms than boys.

People with ASD cannot be identified by their appearance as they typically look the same as everyone else, however, what may set them apart from others is usually how they interact with people as well as the way they communicate, behave, think, and learn.

It is also important to note that ASD affects people differently to where some may be extremely gifted as opposed to others who are severely challenged, which is more common.

In fact, a study conducted by the CDC in 2012, found that 32 percent of autistic children had an intellectual disability, 25 percent were in the borderline range, and 44 percent were identified to have the average or above-average intellectual ability.

Early Treatment Approaches

According to the American Psychiatric Association, signs of autism spectrum disorder may be observed in children, even before the age of 1, but after 18 months old a reliable diagnosis can be obtained.

However, in 2014, most children weren’t diagnosed with autism until after the age of 4.

Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, Thomas Frazier, claims that detecting the disorder at this age can be detrimental to a child’s future wellbeing as years of beneficial intervention are lost, which are crucial in supporting healthy development, that results in more productive lifestyles.

Currently, there are no specific tests or scans that can be done to diagnose ASD. Therefore, medical specialists rely on a clinical examination along with information and other tests to determine whether or not a child has the disorder.

New approaches of early diagnoses and treatment are currently being developed by researchers to detect the disorder at younger ages and treat it with eye-tracking technologies.

A research group led by Qandeel Tariq, M.A., of Stanford University, is exploring possibilities of machine learning to help identify autism early.

What did Autism Look Like?

In the past, several conditions would have to be diagnosed separately to determine if a person had autism. These conditions included; pervasive developmental disorder (PDD-NOS), autistic disorder, and Asperger syndrome.

In 2013, these conditions were combined into what we currently call autism spectrum disorder or ASD with the release of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (DSM) revision. This new version known as DSM-5 changed the way autism is diagnosed and classified.

Autism Interventions

Google Glass recently deployed the first randomized clinical test that demonstrates the efficacy of a digital intervention that is wearable and improves children with ASD’s social behavior, the “Superpower Glass intervention”.

This intervention includes a smartphone app. Glasses are worn by a child and help promote emotion recognition and facial engagement by detecting facial expressions and providing supporting social cues. In other words, it suggests either or both can be a mechanism of action that drives the observed improvement. This study promotes the potential of augmenting the standard care with digital home therapy.

Types of therapies for Autism

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), can be described as a “gold standard” for autism treatment. It is a system of treatments for autism based on behaviorist theories that state desired behaviors can be taught with consequences and rewards.

Most of the current treatment recommendations are provided by research conducted on children and adolescents; therefore, specific treatments and therapy for adults are limited.

Doctors who specialize in providing psychological, behavioral, educational, and/or skill-building interventions can best treat patients with ASD with intensive and highly structured programs that may involve family members including parents and siblings to help people with ASD:

  • Reduce challenging behaviors
  • Learn skills necessary or independently living
  • Learn communication, social, and language skills
  • build upon and increase strengths

Emergence of Behavioral Therapy for Treating Autism

There are some individuals who were diagnosed with ASD and treated for the disorder at a very early age whose conditions have improved dramatically over the years to where the differences between them and those never diagnosed with the condition, are little to none. While this is more than likely due to the response of early treatment and therapeutic intervention, it can also be that the patient grew out of the disorder or one can’t rule out the question of an inaccurate initial diagnosis.

One treatment that has emerged recently is a job interview training program that uses an android robot to improve job interview skills in individuals with autism.

The program is the result of a study distributed in training sessions, which was shown to improve self-confidence and nonverbal communication skills as well as lowered levels of salivary cortisol significantly more than participants who just received interview guidance by teachers.

Autism Today

Because more groups and individuals finally recognize the need for behavioral therapy to treat Autism and spreading the word, more and more funding is becoming available, allowing for more research and clinical trials to be conducted that support new interventions.

Thanks to new studies, many new treatments and therapies have already emerged that are more productive than the standard applied behavioral analysis therapy. In fact, a group of children with autism receiving ABA combined with the Superpower Glass intervention was compared to another group of ASD children who received only ABA. Those using the glasses along with ABA showed significant improvements in social interaction compared to the other group.

Although we have come a long way in treating the autism disorder, we still have a long way to go as far as understanding the cause of autism and perhaps develop a way to prevent it entirely. Until then, at least valid treatment and therapy can be utilized to help those with autism spectrum disorder that leads to fulfilling productive lifestyles.

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