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How is Autism Treated?: Autism Treatment & Therapy Options

How is Autism Treated?: Autism Treatment & Therapy Options

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What is Autism?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability brought on by brain variations that impair behavior and communication. People with ASD may behave, interact, communicate, and learn differently than most others. When those behaviors interfere with day-to-day functioning, it may be time to seek treatment.

Because the abilities of individuals with autism vary greatly, autism is referred to as a “spectrum” disorder. While some people may need a lot of assistance with daily activities, others can live and work independently. Because of their subtle symptoms or ability to “hide” their symptoms to avoid being labeled as “different,” some people with high-functioning autism may not be diagnosed until much later in life.

Types of Autism

There are five main types of autism:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Rett Syndrome
  • Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)
  • Kanner’s Syndrome
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified

Autism usually manifests before the age of three and can last the rest of a person’s life, however, symptoms occasionally get better. While some kids with autism begin displaying signs as early as 12 months old, others could not start until 24 months or later. Some children develop new skills and reach developmental milestones up until 18 to 24 months. At that point, they either cease developing new skills or lose their previous abilities.

Symptoms of Autism

The following symptoms may be signs of autism, though it’s crucial to remember that people with autism might not exhibit all or any of the examples below:1

  • Avoids or breaks eye contact
  • Doesn’t respond to name by nine months
  • Doesn’t display joyful, sad, angry, or astonished facial expressions by nine months
  • Doesn’t engage in simple interactive games like pat-a-cake by 12 months
  • Makes few or no gestures (i.e., does not wave goodbye) at 12 months
  • By 15 months, does not share interests with others (i.e., shows you an object that they like)
  • By 18 months, does not point to show you something intriguing
  • At 24 months, does not recognize when others are harmed or unhappy
  • By 36 months, does not observe or engage in play with other children
  • By four years old, does not pretend to be someone else during play, such as a teacher or a superhero
  • Does not perform for you in song, dance, or acting by five years old
  • Sets toys or other items in a line and becomes irate if the order is changed
  • Repeatedly uses the same words or phrases (called echolalia)
  • Uses the same playstyle with toys every time
  • Is concentrated on object components (for example, wheels)
  • Upset by the slightest changes
  • Possesses obsessive interests
  • Must adhere to specified procedures
  • Flapping hands, rocking the body, or circling oneself
  • Demonstrates unique reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, sights, or feelings
  • Delayed language and motor skills
  • Delayed abilities in learning or thinking
  • Inattentive, impulsive, or hyperactive behavior
  • Seizure or epilepsy disorder
  • Unusual sleeping/eating patterns
  • Digestive disorders
  • Unusual emotions or mood swings
  • Anxiety, tension, excessive worry or the absence of fear, or unexpectedly high levels of fear

Types of Autism Treatment

Therapy & Counseling

Autism spectrum disorder has no known treatment. While there are numerous treatment options available, none of them are universal. Autism treatment aims to improve your child’s functioning by minimizing the symptoms and fostering growth and learning. Your child can learn important social, communicative, functional, and behavioral skills with early intervention throughout the preschool years.2

The following are options for autism therapy:3

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): ABA can help children learn new skills and transfer those talents to various natural settings by using a reward-based motivation approach.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This evidence-based approach aims to understand how ideas, feelings, and behaviors are connected. In CBT, the patient and therapist jointly decide on goals before the patient changes how they think about a situation to change how they react to it.
  • Speech and Language Therapy: This is the most common developmental therapy for people with autism. A person’s comprehension and use of speech and language are both improved by speech and language therapy.
  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT): This systematic ABA technique divides abilities into manageable, “discrete” parts. The trainer imparts these skills, using observable reinforcements for desirable behavior. This might be a candy bar or a toy for a child.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapy imparts knowledge and abilities to assist the patient in living as independently as possible. Dressing, eating, taking a shower, and interacting with others are examples of skill development. Occupational therapy may also include:
    • Sensory Integration Therapy: aids in enhancing reactions to potentially constricting or overpowering sensory input
    • Physical Therapy: aids in developing physical abilities, including greater body and trunk movements or finger movements
  • Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH): The TEACCH educational approach is based on the notion that consistency and visual learning benefit individuals with autism. It allows teachers to change the classroom setup to enhance academic and other results.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT):4 PRT is a behavior therapy used to treat autism. The child is the one who starts this play-based treatment based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Insurance may be able to help cover the cost of therapy. Find out if your insurance provider can help with the costs by filling in our confidential insurance verification form below.

Autism Medications

Medications cannot treat the primary signs and symptoms of autism. However, co-occurring symptoms can respond to medications, which can improve an autistic patient’s overall functioning.

For instance, medication may be used to regulate excessive energy, difficulty concentrating, or self-destructive tendencies like head banging or hand biting. Medication can also treat medical diseases, including seizures, sleep disorders, stomach issues, and co-occurring psychological conditions like anxiety or depression.

When considering medication, engaging with an autism specialist with experience treating people with ASD is crucial to ensure that adverse side effects don’t occur. The patient, doctor(s), families, and other medical professionals must collaborate to track development and reactions.

Autism treatment medications include some antipsychotic drugs, including risperidone and aripiprazole. The FDA approved these for treating ASD-related irritability in children of certain ages.5 Although there are other medications, like stimulants, tricyclics, and anti-anxiety medications, that can help with the symptoms of autism, the FDA has not given them approval for this particular usage.

Other Types of Treatment Options

Floor time, Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), social stories, and social skills groups are additional social-relationship treatments for autism. These emphasize developing interpersonal relationships and improving social skills. Parents or peer mentors may be used in several social-relational strategies.

In addition, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment that uses electromagnetic pulses to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. This approach improves symptoms of depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), conditions that some children and adults with autism also experience. So, while TMS doesn’t treat autism, it may help some people with autism feel and function better.

Teletherapy is also a viable option for autism treatment. There are many reasons why those needing assistance don’t seek out therapists. By providing a more convenient and frequently more economical alternative to receive the treatment one needs, teletherapy helps to break down barriers.

Autism Treatment Costs & Insurance Coverage

As the Affordable Care Act requires, most private health insurance policies must provide coverage for mental health treatment like autism therapy. The cost for therapy for autism may be partially or entirely covered, depending on your specific type of health insurance, personal policy coverage, and deductible or lifetime limits. Therefore, the following costs may not reflect the actual price you’ll pay for autism treatment in Tennessee.

In the United States, the typical cost of psychotherapy ranges from $100 to $200 a session, dependent upon the state and the length of the session.6 Doctor’s visits alone can range from a few hundred dollars to more than $2,700.

The average cost of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is $120 per hour, and a 30 risperidone, 1 mg oral tablets supply, is about $18. To realize their full potential, some children need up to 40 hours of ABA therapy every week, which costs $4,800 per week or $249,600 per year.7

According to the CDC, the yearly health care expenses for a child with autism are between $4,100 and $6,200 higher than those for a child without autism.8

Autism Treatment Success & Outlook

There is neither a cure nor a one-size-fits-all treatment for autism. However, reducing symptoms with early behavioral interventions and promoting growth and learning are key components of treatment that aim to enhance your child’s capacity for function.

According to one study, 80% of autistic kids were “doing well” when the second round of data was gathered, demonstrating growth or proficiency in at least one developmental area. Furthermore, around age 10, 20% of the kids demonstrated proficiency in four or all five tested skills.9

It is advised to use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as a long-term, intensive therapy plan for most autistic children. This means that throughout the course of several years, the child will regularly attend therapy sessions for a substantial amount of time each week. This typically takes 25 to 40 hours of weekly therapy spread out over a few days. The entire course of treatment usually lasts one to three years. The recommended period will vary depending on your child’s age and the severity of their autism diagnosis.10

Although short-term intervention is rarely the greatest strategy, some children do benefit from it. According to a 2012 study of 48 toddlers with autism, six months of ABA therapy beginning at two years old increased their cognitive abilities and capacity to communicate with others, decreasing the severity of their autistic symptoms. In addition, neuroimaging of autistic patients who had Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) revealed brain changes that pointed to long-term behavioral change, according to another study.11

Autism spectrum therapies are frequently most successful when psychotherapy and medications are combined. Children with autism spectrum disorder usually continue to learn and make adjustments throughout their lives. However, the majority will still need some assistance.


  1. “Signs and Symptoms | Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) | NCBDDD | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 28 Mar. 2022, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html.
  2. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Autism Spectrum Disorder: Diagnosis.” Mayo Clinic, 6 Jan. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20352934.
  3. “Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Mar. 2022, www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html.
  4. “Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT).” Autism Speaks, www.autismspeaks.org/pivotal-response-treatment-prt-0. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Medication Treatment for Autism.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 19 Apr. 2021, www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments/medication-treatment#f2.
  6.  Lauretta, Ashley. “How Much Does Therapy Cost?” edited by Alena Hall, Forbes Health, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/how-much-does-therapy-cost/
  7. Tatom, Carol RBT. Autism Parenting Magazine, 2022, “How Much Does ABA Therapy for Autism Cost?” https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/aba-therapy-autism-cost/
  8. “Autism in Tennessee: Part 3 – Health.” TN.gov, May 2012, comptroller.tn.gov/content/dam/cot/orea/advanced-search/2012/2012_OREA_Autism.pdf.
  9. Szatmari P, Cost KT, Duku E, et al. Association of Child and Family Attributes With Outcomes in Children With Autism. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(3):e212530. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.2530
  10. Linstead, E et al. “An evaluation of the effects of intensity and duration on outcomes across treatment domains for children with autism spectrum disorder.” Translational psychiatry vol. 7,9 e1234. 19 Sep. 2017, doi:10.1038/tp.2017.207
  11. Lei, Jiedi, and Pamela Ventola. “Pivotal response treatment for autism spectrum disorder: current perspectives.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 13 1613-1626. 20 Jun. 2017, doi:10.2147/NDT.S120710

If you suspect that you or someone you love suffers from mental health disorders, contact Athena Care today.

One of our friendly associates will help you get the help you need. Take this first step to feel better and take control. 

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