Autism Treatment: What Types of Treatments Are Available?

Amy Pfeffer

March 16, 2023

Autism Treatment

Treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) don’t aim to cure it, but they can improve a person’s life by helping them socialize and communicate, function at school and in their community, and learn adaptive skills.

There are many different approaches to autism treatment, each tailored to a child’s needs and strengths. It can be difficult to determine which approach will work best for your child, but exploring each option may be worth it in the end.


Medications can be used in autism treatment to help people with autism cope with symptoms that aren’t easily treated by behavioral and psychological interventions. These include hyperactivity, self-injury, and aggression.

Antidepressants are the most common medication for autism, particularly SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). These medications reduce the reuptake of two neurotransmitters – serotonin and norepinephrine – that can cause symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

Mood stabilizers are another class of medications that work by changing the levels of these same neurotransmitters in the brain. They can be helpful for children with ASD and other conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Psychological Approaches

Psychological treatments for autism often involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy. These sessions can help people with autism learn new skills, improve their self-esteem, and reduce problem behaviors.

CBT may also be useful for adults with autism, as it helps them understand how their thoughts and emotions impact their behavior. It can also teach them how to recognize and change negative thinking patterns that trigger negative behaviors.

Other psychological approaches include behavior and communication therapies, which can help children with autism reduce problem behaviors and learn new skills. These can include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a type of therapy that uses theories from behavioral psychology.

Some alternative therapies may be helpful for some people with autism, but the research isn’t strong enough to determine whether they work. Some of these methods have been linked to negative effects, so working closely with your doctor when exploring them is important.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies can reduce or eliminate problematic behaviors and help people with autism communicate more clearly and use their skills effectively. They can also help individuals develop social and self-care skills, improve daily life, and increase independence.

Typically, behavioral treatments are based on methods like applied behavior analysis (ABA). This approach uses a set of techniques to determine why children do particular behaviors, teach them new skills, and make changes that promote positive behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches individuals how to cope with situations that cause them stress and anxiety. It also helps them change their thoughts and replace negative ones with more positive ones.

In this type of therapy, therapists work with the child one-on-one and encourage desired behavior through rewards. For instance, if the child wants to touch her nose, the therapist might give her a sticker, a goldfish cracker, or verbal praise.

ABA is the most common and well-researched type of behavioral treatment for autism. Studies have shown that long-term, intensive ABA therapy can significantly improve language development, intellectual functioning, and social skills.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Many people with autism use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to improve their health or reduce symptoms. They may include dietary supplements, massage therapy, acupuncture, and music therapy.

These treatments are often based on theories about the causes of autism and other mental disorders or may be intended to relieve symptoms. For example, a nutrient supplement can ensure that children with autism get enough nutrients for proper growth and development.

The most common types of CAM for autism are diet and supplement-based treatments, cranial-sacral therapy, neurofeedback, and homeopathic remedies. These are typically low-risk and inexpensive options for improving the quality of life for those with autism. They can effectively reduce symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and sleep problems. They are usually part of a more comprehensive treatment plan, however. Some CAM methods may have negative effects, so discussing these with your child’s doctor is important.