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Home > Research Articles > Fit The Treatment To The Autistic Child

The Los Angeles Daily News

Thursday, November 14, 2002

November 13, 2002

(The Los Angeles Daily News) -- When Laurie Stephens explains the term "autism spectrum disorders," she describes not a straight line but a three-dimensional prism.

The sides of the prism are social interaction, language skills and behavior. A child with autism could exhibit any combination of symptoms and fall anywhere on the prism, from the low-functioning end to the high, says Stephens, a director at the Help Group, which runs day schools and clinical programs for children with special needs in Los Angeles.

The individualized nature of autism - a neurological disorder that has increased dramatically in California in the last 15 years - means that no one treatment works for every child. Experts say behavior therapies can improve the child's outcome, especially when started as early as possible.

"There are all different levels of intervention, depending on the specific needs of a child," Stephens says.

A child with Asperger's disorder on the high-functioning end of the spectrum might need only one day a week of social skills training vs. five days a week for a child with a more severe case of autism.

According to the Autism Society of America, traits associated with the disorder include insistence on sameness, repetition of words or phrases in place of normal responsive language, aloofness, tantrums, little or no eye contact, no fear of danger and sustained odd play.

While there is consensus on the benefit of early intervention, finding the right medication - assuming one is needed - requires trial and error, says Dr. Sarah Spence of the UCLA Autism Evaluation Clinic. Spence is the lead investigator at UCLA for a national clinical trial for the drug secretin, which has shown promise for a certain subgroup of autistic patients.

"There are a lot of medications used to target specific symptoms," Spence says. "One of the things we're having a hard time with is finding medicine to work on the core symptoms of autism."

Anti-depressants might be used for obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Stimulants might be used to address inattentiveness. And anti-convulsants might be used as mood stabilizers.

"The way I describe it to parents, we !ital!do!off! know the behavior therapies improve outcome," Spence says. "If your child has behaviors that are so disruptive that they can't participate in those therapies, that's the time to consider medication."

Copyright 2002 The Los Angeles Daily News. All rights reserved.