An early, intensive, appropriate treatment program will greatly improve the outlook for most young children with autism. Most programs will build on the interests of the child in a highly structured schedule of constructive activities. Visual aids are often helpful.

Treatment is most successful when it is geared toward the child's particular needs. An experienced specialist or team should design the program for the individual child. A variety of therapies are available, including:

  • Applied behavior analysis (ABA)
  • Medications
  • Occupational therapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech-language therapy

Sensory integration and vision therapy are also common, but there is little research supporting their effectiveness. The best treatment plan may use a combination of techniques.


This program is for younger children with an autism spectrum disorder. It can be effective in some cases. ABA uses a one-on-one teaching approach that reinforces the practice of various skills. The goal is to get the child close to normal developmental functioning.

ABA programs are usually done in a child's home under the supervision of a behavioral psychologist. These programs can be very expensive and have not been widely adopted by school systems. Parents often must seek funding and staffing from other sources, which can be hard to find in many communities.


Another program is called the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH). TEACCH was developed as a statewide program in North Carolina. It uses picture schedules and other visual cues that help the child work independently and organize and structure their environments.

Though TEACCH tries to improve a child's adaptation and skills, it also accepts the problems associated with autism spectrum disorders. Unlike ABA programs, TEACCH programs do not expect children to achieve typical development with treatment.


Medicines are often used to treat behavior or emotional problems that people with autism may have, including:

  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention problems
  • Extreme compulsions that the child cannot stop
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsiveness
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Outbursts
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Tantrums

Currently, only risperidone is approved to treat children ages 5 - 16 for the irritability and aggression that can occur with autism. Other medicines that may also be used include SSRIs, divalproex sodium and other mood stabilizers, and possibly stimulants such as methylphenidate.      Reprinted from