The short answer is no. There is no cure for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is the range of developmental disorders associated with challenges in social skills, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. According to the CDC, autism affects 1 in 54 children in the United States.
We have learned so much about ASD in the past 50 years. We know about the different challenges people with autism face and how they think and learn. We’ve learned about treatments like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy and its value in modifying behaviors. But why isn’t there a cure for autism?
Searching for a Cure Throughout History
There have been many attempts at understanding and curing autism over the years. Autism was once a disorder that was not discussed in public. People shunned children who exhibited symptoms of what we now know as ASD.
Over the years, there have been several “cures” for autism. Vitamin injections and gluten-free, casein-free diets were popular at one time. Some parents or caregivers believed that eliminating dairy and starting B-12 injections would magically “fix” their child’s autism. Some parents even gave their children bleach drinks and enemas as a quick remedy for the disorder.
Things have changed over the past 60 years. We now know more about diagnosing autism and how it affects behavior. We also know that ASD is a lifelong condition that can be successfully treated with therapy but not cured.
Autism Speaks “Cure” Controversy
Autism Speaks is an organization that once had the ultimate goal of ending autism by any means necessary. They have also supported preventing autistic babies from being born. This includes a prenatal test that detects autism (like the ones that detect Down Syndrome).
Autism Speaks directed 32% of its budget to research aimed at finding a cure for autism. This did not include improving existing therapies and equipment for people with ASD.
The organization has also come under scrutiny for its awareness campaigns. Critics claim the campaigns show autistic children and adults as burdens on society. These actions brought negative attention to the organization and have forced changes to its practices.
People With Autism Are Not Broken
There is a segment of the autism community that believes autism does not need to be treated. Although an autism diagnosis can be difficult, parents have learned how to support their autistic children and teens in different ways. The latest science does not support a single cure for autism, but there are ways that people with autism can live healthy, happy lives.
Researchers today focus on identifying ASD in children as early as possible. This early diagnosis allows parents and professionals to intervene sooner. Early intervention is helpful in affecting how young brains develop. Skilled practitioners can identify autism in toddlers at 18 to 24 months.
Yale University’s Autism Center of Excellence is studying signs of autism in babies as young as 6 months. They believe that early intervention is best because the brain is still developing. This is the best time to ease some of the symptoms of autism. It can also help children with autism to reach their full potential.
Research shows that early diagnoses and interventions are more likely to have positive effects on children’s skills. Early interventions can also ease ASD symptoms for children as they get older.
Doctors are working hard at minimizing the medical conditions that can accompany autism. These conditions include sleep disorders, seizures, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and ADHD.
The idea of curing autism is so controversial because it suggests that autism is a sickness or a disease that creates a burden on society. Most people with autism see themselves as independent and capable, not as people who need to be fixed.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy
Even though there is no cure for autism, there are interventions that help with ASD symptoms. ABA therapy is designed to help people with autism. ABA is supported by scientific evidence. It improves social skills and communication in autistic children.
ABA therapy is an effective, flexible intervention. Rewards are used as positive reinforcements when a child uses a behavior or skill successfully. The rewards encourage the child to continue the behavior. This leads to meaningful behavioral changes over time.
ABA Therapy Criticism
Some critics of ABA think it involves grueling therapy that can be tough on children. Critics also say that the repetition present in ABA is frustrating, and the skills children learn don’t work in all situations.
Another criticism is that ABA is too focused on eliminating behaviors and not focused enough on building skills. Some have claimed that ABA tries to make autistic people the same as their peers even though autistic people think and process differently.
While it’s true that no therapy is completely successful for everyone, these types of criticisms of ABA therapy are based on misconceptions of how it works today. In the past, ABA was seen as punishment-based, but so much has changed since then. Today, ABA is a modern therapy that uses positive intervention in fun, playful ways. It does not attempt to cure autism or change autistic people. It just gives them different ways to behave.
ABA Therapy Benefits
ABA applies the principles of learning in ways that help to modify behavior in autistic children. It is widely recognized as the only valid therapy available for treating the behavioral issues that come with ASD. When done correctly, ABA is a fun, playful style of therapy that helps children with ASD to live and cope in the world around them.
The Center for Autism credits ABA for helping people with autism to improve how they interact socially with others. It also gives them new skills and helps them to maintain the positive behaviors they learn. ABA also helps people with autism to use the skills they learn in many different situations. This helps them to minimize negative behaviors and cope with adversity in more productive ways.
ABA also benefits the parents of autistic children. It teaches them how to interact better with their children and teaches the child how to interact with others. ABA offers support to parents as they navigate life with an autistic child. It teaches them to parent in more effective ways.
Parents work with therapists to find the therapy that is best for their children. Therapists monitor children closely to see how they respond. Therapy plans can be changed if necessary, but therapy should be ongoing.
If you’d like to learn more about ABA therapy or start your child’s own journey, be sure to get in touch with our team at ABA Centers of America today.