There is no cure for autism. But evidence shows that early intervention results in positive outcomes for children with autism, and the earlier the better. Studies show that those with autism respond well to a highly-structured, specialized education program tailored to their needs. Some may need one-on-one or small group support; while others may succeed in an inclusive program with supports. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, no one method alone is effective in treating the disorder. Other treatments that may help reduce symptoms include prescription medications and occupational, speech and sensory therapies. Some families have also anecdotally reported benefits from vitamins and special diets.
Programs for Children Under 3:
If a child is younger than 3 years old, he or she is eligible for "early intervention" assistance. This federally-funded program is available in every state, but may be provided by different agencies. Contact the local chapter of the Autism Society of America in your area for more specific information, search program listings in Autism Source™ located on the web at http://www.autismsource.org/, or obtain a state resource sheet from the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities.
This early education assistance may be available in two forms: home-based or school-based. Home-based programs generally assign members of an early intervention team to come to the home to train parents or caregivers to educate the child on the spectrum. School-based programs may be in a public school or a private organization. Both of these programs should be staffed by teachers and other professionals who have experience working with children with disabilities specifically autism. Related services should also be offered, such as speech, physical or occupational therapy, depending on the needs of each child. The program may be only for children with disabilities or it may also include typically developing peers.
Programs for School Aged Children:
From the age of 3 through 21, every child diagnosed on the autism spectrum is guaranteed a free appropriate public education supplied by the local education agency. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal mandate that guarantees this education. Whatever the level of impairment, the educational program for an individual on the autism spectrum should be based on the unique needs of the student, and thoroughly documented in the IEP (Individualized Education Program). If this is the first attempt by the parents and the school system to develop the appropriate curriculum, conducting a comprehensive needs assessment is a good place to start. Consult with professionals who are well versed in the spectrum of autism and related conditions about the best possible educational methods that will be effective in assisting the student to learn and benefit from his/her school program.
Educational programming for students with ASD often addresses a wide range of skill development, including: academics, language, social skills, self-help skills, behavioral issues, and leisure skills. Collaboration between parents and professionals is essential; open communication will certainly lead to better evaluation of progress and improved outcomes for the student.