Remediation of the debilitating aspects of autism is hindered by widespread disagreement over its nature and causes, and by a lack of recognized and effective therapies.

The behavioral and cognitive functioning of individuals with autism can improve with the help of psychosocial and pharmacological interventions. Among psychosocial treatments, intensive, sustained special education programs and behavior therapy early in life can increase the ability of children with autism to acquire language and the ability to learn. In adults with autism, some studies have found beneficial effects of the antidepressant medications clomipramine and fluoxetine. There is also evidence that the antipsychotic medication haloperidol can be helpful; however, the risk of serious side effects is significant in children.

Dr. Bruno Bettelheim believed that autism was linked to trauma in early childhood, and his work was highly influential for decades. Parents, and especially mothers, of autistics were blamed for having caused their child's condition through the withholding of affection. Leo Kanner, who first described autism (Autistic disturbances of affective contact, 1943) originated the "refrigerator mother" hypothesis, which held that autism was at least partly caused by a lack of affection from the autistic child's mother. Although Kanner eventually renounced the concept and apologized publicly, Bettelheim took the theory further. These theories did nothing to address the fact that having more than one autistic child in a family is exceptional, not the rule. Treatments based on these theories failed to help autistic children.

Applied Behavior Analysis:

A major breakthrough in the remediation of autistic behaviors came through work spearheaded by Ole Ivar Lovaas, who believed that success could be obtained by behavioral approaches. Lovaas' approaches—often referred to as Discrete Trial, Intensive Behavior Intervention, and Applied Behavior Analysis—are some of the best known and most widely used in the field - Read more...