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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder. However, a child's symptoms may improve with intense treatment.

Treatment generally includes education, behavioral management and medications.

Education

Educators develop an individualized education program to address the child's specific problems. This typically includes speech and language therapy, social skills and life-skills training.

Behavioral management

The goal of behavioral management is to enhance appropriate behavior and reduce inappropriate behaviors.

Behavior modification strategies include positive reinforcement, "time out" and comprehensive behavioral interventions. Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a teaching approach that reinforces the practice of specific skills.

Medications

There is not one drug that treats all symptoms of autism effectively. Medications that may be considered include:

  • Antipsychotic medications to reduce aggression, irritability and repetitive behavior. These medications also have unwanted side effects.

  • Antidepressants to treat depression and repetitive behaviors.

  • Anti-anxiety medications for anxiety-related behavior.

  • Central nervous system stimulants to treat hyperactive or impulsive behavior.

Complementary medicine

Some people believe that changes in diet, herbal medicines, and other forms of complementary medicine can help autistic children. As of now there isn't enough information to recommend them.

Some of these treatments can be dangerous or have side effects. Talk to your doctor about any treatment you may be considering.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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