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Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is listed the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a mental disorder. It is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Certain factors such as: brain structure abnormalities, problems at birth, specific types of infections, and genetics have all been said to contribute to the possible development of ASD. However, the precise cause for the development of autism spectrum disorder remains unknown. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in America. There are a variety of treatment options available for a person with ASD, and each person will benefit from a tailored treatment plan. Depending on the specific needs of the individual, medications, speech therapy, occupational therapy and more may be integrated into his or her treatment plan.

Symptoms

To understand the benefits of the different treatment modalities, it is helpful to be aware of the common symptoms of ASD. Below are some examples of symptoms that can be exhibited in people with autism spectrum disorder, provided by the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Difficulty carrying conversations with peers
  • Verbal communication deficits
  • Strict need for routine and structure
  • Preoccupations with a specific topic
  • Challenges with regulating emotions
  • Experiences sensory overload frequently
  • Unable to empathize
  • Difficulty interpreting social cues
  • Unable to maintain friendships 

Depending on the person, some symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can be noticed in children as early as a few months old. More commonly, ASD surfaces in children between the ages of one to three years old, as they begin to fall behind socially. ASD will manifest distinctly and each person with ASD will have a unique combination of associated signs and symptoms. 

Treatment

Though there are currently no FDA approved medications that are specifically designed to treat ASD, there are some medications that can help alleviate some of the symptoms related to the disorder. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), stimulant medications and antipsychotic medications are some of the types of medications prescribed by physicians to help with related symptoms (e.g., depression, anxiety, etc.). Speech-language therapy as well as social skills training can be helpful for people with ASD. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that can help a person with ASD learn how to better control their repetitive behaviors and emotions. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a specialized form of (CBT) that places great emphasis on the psychosocial aspects of treatment. It was originally developed to help treat chronically suicidal individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) to assist in managing emotional challenges and social difficulties. Traits such as emotional dysregulation and social struggles are noted as common side effects of both ASD and borderline personality disorder. The fact that DBT was specifically developed to address these overlapping issues, often serves as an effective treatment method for people with autism spectrum disorder.

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.