Author: Adekola Taylor
Autism is a pervasive and life-long disorder that is characterised by profound deficits in communication and social understanding, together with ritualistic and obsession behaviours and a general resistance to change (Wing, 1993). The aetiology of autism is still not fully understood but genetic and environmental factors have been implicated. Autism may include children behaving below normal intelligence, children with epileptics in their teen years and teenagers with average intelligence or above average but with a lot of anxiety and depression. Children and adults can display any combination of autistic behaviours in varying degrees of severity. In other words, two children, both with the same diagnosis, can act differently from one another, showing varying degree of skills.
Although therapies and certain behavioural, educational, and pharmacological interventions have been demonstrated to be helpful for many individuals with autism, there is no currently evidence based cure for this developmental disorder. The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that meet the specific needs of individual children. According to Myers et al. (2007), treatment for autism focuses on improving core deficits in social communication, as well as addressing challenging behaviours to improve functional engagement in developmentally appropriate activities. In addition to addressing core deficits, treatments are provided for difficulties associated with the disorder (anxiety, attention difficulties, sensory difficulties, etc.). Individual goals for treatment vary for different children and may include combinations of therapies.
Pseudoscience and Treatments of Autism
Pseudoscientific treatments are characterised by frivolous claims that are not supported by empirical reports. They tend to be promoted through proprietary publications or Internet Web sites rather than refereed scientific journals. Finally, pseudoscientific treatments are often associated with individuals or organizations with a direct and substantial financial stake in the treatments.
Questionable Treatments for Autism
There are increasing number scientific questionable treatments available for treating autistic children. Although they are being promoted as miracle treatments for autism, they are all pseudoscientific treatments. Moreover the observation that individuals with autism sometimes exhibit sensory and motor abnormalities has resulted in the promotion of treatments that claim either to unlock the hidden communicator trapped by the disorder (e.g. Facilitated Communication) or to correct the underlying neurological deficits that are thought responsible for the impairments (e.g., sensory and auditory integration therapies) (James et al., 2002). Another questionable treatment is based on cognitive and psychoanalytic model approaches.
Various Treatments for Autism
There are many theories and speculations regarding the aetiology of autism. In respect to this, there are various types of therapies and treatments developed basically to improve the quality of life. Since autism is a spectrum disorder, the effective treatment plan should coordinate treatments and interventions that meet individual’s specific needs. Autism is being treated through educational and behavioural interventions, medications and other therapies. The best treatment plan may use a combination of techniques (PubMed Health, 2012).
- Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)
ABA programme is under the educational and behavioural interventions in the treatment of autism. It is being used for younger children to help them develop language and social skills. The Vanderbilt Evidence-based Practice Centre systematically reviewed evidence on therapies for children ages 2 to 12 with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and concluded that some behavioural and educational interventions that vary widely in terms of scope, target, and intensity have demonstrated effects, but the lack of consistent data limits their understanding of whether these interventions are linked to specific clinically meaningful changes in functioning (Warren Z, et al., 2011). A popular programme in this category is called Young Autism Project (YAP). Like other ABA methods, the goal of YAP is to return the child to normal developmental functioning. The literature on ABA programmes for autism clearly suggests that such interventions are promising but they do not offer a cure.
The programme for the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) is a university-based project founded by Eric Schopler at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The structure of teaching is less intensive than that of ABA. TEACCH is more focused on accommodating a child's autistic traits than in trying to overcome them. More research is still needed to ascertain the efficacy of TEACCH programme.
Of all the various treatments being used for treating autism, the use of medicine is the only one that has enough available scientific literature and evidence based intervention to support its claims. Drugs that are used for treating autism are majorly antipsychotics, anxiolytics and antidepressants. Moreover, the treatment of psychotic and mood disorders associated with autism is both pharmacological and psychosocial. Currently, only risperidone is approved to treat children ages 5 - 16 for the irritability and aggression that can occur with autism. Other medicines that may also be used include Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), divalproex sodium and other mood stabilizers, and possibly stimulants such as methylphenidate.
These drugs will alleviate symptoms such as thought disorder, hallucinations and delusions, psychomotor agitation and depressive disorders etc. Warren Z, et al. (2011) reviewed evidence on therapies for children ages 2 to 12 with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) and concluded that medical interventions including risperidone and aripiprazole show benefit for reducing challenging behaviours in some children with ASDs, but side effects are significant. The most extensively studied agents are the dopamine antagonists, especially haloperidol (Haldol). Haloperidol is a representative of antipsychotic drugs and it is indicated for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, mania, psychomotor agitation and violent behaviour, adjunct in severe anxiety. Moreover, there is a growing consensus that children appear to respond less well to SSRIs than do adolescents and adults.
Tricyclic antidepressants are less frequently used relative to SSRIs, given the possibility of cardiovascular side effects and lowering of seizure threshold. All the drugs used for treatment of autism have their side effects which may include weight gain, constipation and sedation, hypotension and interference with temperature regulation, neuroleptic malignant syndrome and bone-marrow depression and more life-threatening side effects. It is worth noting that there is no medicine that treats the underlying problems of autism.
Future Hope for the Cure of Autism
Modern medicine has provided many breakthrough treatments for serious diseases, however some conditions have eluded the healing grasp being clamour for, and autism is in these conditions. In other words, there is no evidence based or scientific proven cure for autism. However recent advances in research are pointing towards achieving the goal of curing autism. Some of these recent research breakthroughs are explained below. Researchers from the National Institutes of Mental Health and Pfizer raised a new hope for the cure of autism through their report which stated that an experimental compound called GRN-529, increased social interactions and lessened repetitive self-grooming behaviour in a strain of mice bred to display autism-like behaviours (Neuroscience news, 2012).
Environmental roles and genetic disorders have been implicated in causing an increased risk of developing autism. Furthermore, more rigorous scientific research and investigation into the genetic implications associated with the development of autism must be taken serious if we are dreaming of a cure for this developmental disorder. Recently it has been discovered that the disruption of a new gene called EIF4E gene is linked with autism. The detection of a link between the gene and autism opens up a potential new target for treatment in the future. These findings raise the possibility that correction of EIF4E abnormalities could improve symptoms of autism, not only in those whose condition is caused by changes in EIF4E, but also in those in whose autism is caused by the genetic signals that pass through EIF4E (Phys.org, 2009).
Having searched through the literature for the cure of autism, it was found that there are no various possible treatments for curing the developmental disorder called autism for now. Even the medical interventions that are excellent in the treatment of autism are punctuated by their wide range of adverse effects. Some proponents of ABA have been making claims about the ability of such programmes to “cure” autism and these are not supported by the available literature. Other behaviourally based programmes (e.g., LEAP, Denver Health Sciences Program, and TEACCH) have been less prone to exaggerated claims but they don’t proffer curative measures for autism. Likewise, a variety of popular treatments are marketed as producing effective results, in spite of scientific evidence suggesting that they are of little benefit and in some cases may actually be harmful. Even the most promising treatments for autism rest on an inadequate research base, and are sometimes wrongly promoted as “cures.” However recent advances in research are moving us towards achieving the ultimate goal of curing this developmental disorder called autism.
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