Can Autism Be Cured?

by Molly Shaw Wilson MS OTR/L BCP February 25, 2020 1 Comment

autism cure blog post

To answer your question right off the bat, in the technical sense, there is not a cure for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, there are plenty of things that can be done to help improve a child’s autistic symptoms, even to the point of them not testing on the spectrum anymore. 

Could that be seen as a cure for autism? It's really hard to say since autism is a part of who someone is, which we'll dive into more below.

It’s important to know that Autism is a spectrum. Ranging from high functioning Autism, also known as Aspergers, to more severe cases.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

So when a person is diagnosed with Autism, it means they fall somewhere on this spectrum. Each part of the spectrum has different symptoms, which means that every case of Autism is unique.

When treating Autism, some people have had such success that they no longer test on the spectrum. Does this mean that you can cure Autism? That’s really up for interpretation, but the practical outlook is to focus on improving the symptoms.

While diving into what can be done to improve Autistic Symptoms can’t be fully covered in this one post (we ended up writing a 10,000+ word guide on it), we can take a brief look at treatments while also addressing one issue that we think is important, which is a lot of people’s attitudes around “curing” autism.

Differing Attitudes on “Curing” Autism

There is certainly a wide range of opinions on autism. On one end you have people that are very proud to be autistic and want it to be seen as a gift rather than a disorder. On the other end, autism is studied by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which focuses on diseases in the U.S., and includes researchers actively looking for cures to autism.

It’s important to see both sides' perspectives. When you honestly look at each side, you can see that there is a lot of common ground that we should be focusing on.

One of the first factors that we need to realize is that autism is on a spectrum. That means while some can be high functioning with autism, there are 60% who have below-average intellectual abilities. Also, one-third of people with autism are non-verbal.

So while some people with high-functioning autism are very proud of their unique outlook on life, there are also plenty of people with autism that would like to see a cure so they can improve their social, behavioral, and learning skills.

With ASD having such wide-ranging symptoms and degrees, it’s hard to speak out for the entire group.

The way we like to look at it at Harkla is that we can achieve both goals for the whole group. There are certain skills that we should all improve upon as a society. Anyone will be better off with better social skills (social skills or Emotional Intelligence is responsible for at least two-thirds of someone’s career success), behavior skills, and learning abilities.

Working to improve these doesn’t have to take away an Autistic person’s unique view of the world or some of the benefits that do come with having Autism, which can include excelling in math, good visual thinking, recognizing order and following rules, and improved rote memory.

We don’t see why improving social and behavior skills have to be seen as removing someone’s unique perspective.

So while there isn’t a direct cure for Autism and mixed attitudes on even using the term “cure”, let’s take a quick look at some of the treatments used to improve Autistic symptoms. And keep in mind that every case of Autism is unique, so it’s best to work with your child’s doctor to find the one that is best suited for your child.

Is There Medication for Autism?

The quick answer is no. There is no medication for autism directly. However, there is a use of medications to help alleviate some of the symptoms that come with autism. A couple of examples are anti-depressants since depression is more common in teenagers with autism or anxiety medication since anxiety is a common symptom of autism.

There are also supplements that can be taken to help improve autistic symptoms, but getting into that would need to be an article all on its own since it needs to be covered thoroughly, including studies that back up the information. For now, we have that covered pretty well in our guide on improving Autistic Symptoms.

While medication is useful for helping alleviate symptoms, we can’t stop there. If we only treat the symptoms, we’ll never be able to get at the core issues of them. Simply giving a child anti-depressants isn’t curing the depression, which is a symptom of autism.

Different Behavioral Therapies

This is one of the more common ways Autism is treated and for good reason. A review of past studies that looked at different types of behavioral therapies and its effects on ASD symptoms found some really good results.

When reviewing the other studies, Dawson and Burner found that early intensive behavior therapy (25 to 40 hours over two years) drastically improved toddler’s language and mental abilities. Also, behavioral interventions that last at least six months can improve communication in toddlers and young children.

They also found that group programs improve social skills, along with reducing anxiety and aggression.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the therapies that can produce these results. And remember, work with your child’s doctor to find out which one is best, as it’s different for each individual. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on social skills is most effective for high functioning autistic children, while systematic desensitization works better for those with more severe autistic symptoms.

Parent Education and Training

This is creating strength in numbers. The better trained you are as a parent to support your child, the better they will do. Since children improve more and faster if they are constantly exposed to training, so it’s great when parents know what to do to help.

Social Skills Training and Speech-Language Therapy

This is specific training for being able to communicate one’s feelings and thoughts properly. This is accomplished through one-on-one, group therapy, social situation role-play, and storytelling.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

This therapy focuses on behavior, such as improving self-discipline, regulating emotions, and general behavior improvements. This will help with behavior problems like meltdowns, temper tantrums, etc.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

This has been around the longest, starting in the early ’60s. It teaches both social skills and behavior, but also academic skills. While there are different sub-therapies in this group, they focus on replacing negative behaviors with positive behaviors to help learning, communication, and daily functioning.

Sensory Integration

Sensory Integration addresses problems with the child’s ability to process sensory input. Often, children with autism can have sensory overload, so working with them on this can give them better control over their bodies, improve hand-eye coordination, and better control over their senses and anxiety that comes with sensory overload.

A great way to get started with this is to build your child a sensory room (or sensory corner). You can check out our article on sensory rooms here.

Systematic Desensitization

This is a therapy technique that is also used to reduce phobias and anxiety. The idea is that slowly over time, in a controlled environment, patients get exposed to the things that cause them anxiety.

So for a child with ASD, if it’s a classroom setting that causes them anxiety, they would be exposed to this environment slowly over time. It could start even with just images or videos of classrooms. With each stage they work on controlling their anxiety, slowly working towards real-life scenarios.

With all of these treatments, it’s best to figure out which one is best for your child. What we do know about all of them is that the earlier you start, the better results your child will experience.

Diet and Exercise

Now, this is good advice for everyone, but it also has been shown that both diet and exercise can help improve a child’s Autistic Symptoms.

The diet that seems to work best is a paleo-style diet that focuses on improving a child’s gut bacteria. It turns out that children (and their direct relatives) that have ASD also have abnormal gut bacteria, which has wide-ranging systemic effects, like hormone and neurotransmitter production, along with being able to remove toxins from their bodies.

Diet is another one of those topics that need a ton of explanation. So for now, you can find more info in our guide.

Conclusion

The things we covered in this article could all use their own articles, which we are working on. If you’d like to stay updated on when we publish new articles, please sign up for our email list.

Molly Shaw Wilson MS OTR/L BCP
Molly Shaw Wilson MS OTR/L BCP

Molly Shaw Wilson MS OTR/L BCP is a board-certified pediatric occupational therapist with 16 years experience. She owns a private practice and provides service in homes, community and school settings, as well as her outpatient sensory clinic.

Molly enjoys working with young children and their families, focusing on parent-child interactions and home routines. She is a regular contributor to a parenting blog about typical development. Her professional interests have stemmed from her certificate work in assistive technology, hippotherapy practice, and consultation to a nature-based program in New Hampshire.

To find out more about Molly, please visit her website at www.trainingwheelsnh.com


1 Response

Amanda
Amanda

May 04, 2020

As an autistic person, I do highly appreciate your acknowledgement that autism comes with benefits and difficulties, and that improving functioning in social relationships, learning, and sensory integration is overall helpful without curing something that can’t be cured. This shows nuance that isn’t often found.

However, please don’t conflate autism ‘severity’ with IQ! Autism is a much more complex spectrum than the image shown here. There are autistic people who have high IQs, but also have high support needs and may not speak. There are autistic people who hold down jobs, but can’t manage relationships. It’s not a range from low IQ to high IQ, and I’m really surprised that you espouse this position with your qualifications.

“Autism isn’t a set of defined symptoms that collectively worsen as you move “up” the spectrum.

In fact, one of the distinguishing features of autism is what the DSM‑V calls an “uneven profile of abilities.” There’s a reason people like to say that “if you have met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Every autistic person presents slightly differently.

That’s because autism isn’t one condition. It is a collection of related neurological conditions that are so intertwined and so impossible to pick apart that professionals have stopped trying"(Lynch).

https://neuroclastic.com/2019/05/04/its-a-spectrum-doesnt-mean-what-you-think/

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