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Autism Fact Sheet (page 3)

— National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

How is autism treated?

There is no core for autism.  Therapies and behavioral interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about substantial improvement.  The ideal treatment plan coordinates therapies and interventions that target the core symptoms of autism:  impaired social interaction, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and obsessive or repetitive routines and interests.  Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

  • Educational/behavioral interventions:  Therapists use highly structured and intensive skill-oriented training sessions to help children develop social and language skills.  Family counseling for the parents and siblings of children with autism often helps families cope with the particular challenges of living with an autistic child. 
  • Medications:  Doctors often prescribe an antidepressant medication to handle symptoms of anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Anti-psychotic medications are used to treat severe behavioral problems.  Seizures can be treated with one or more of the anticonvulsant drugs.  Stimulant drugs, such as those used for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD), are sometimes used effectively to help decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity.
  • Other therapies:  There are a number of controversial therapies or interventions available for autistic children, but few, if any, are supported by scientific studies. Parents should use caution before adopting any of these treatments. 

What research is being done?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is one of the federal government’s leading supporters of biomedical research on brain and nervous system disorders.  The NINDS conducts research in its laboratories at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland , and also awards grants to support research at universities and other facilities. 

As part of the Children’s Health Act of 2000, the NINDS and three sister institutes have formed the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee to expand, intensify, and coordinate NIH’s autism research.  Eight dedicated research centers across the country have been established as “Centers of Excellence in Autism Research” to bring together researchers and the resources they need.   The Centers are conducting basic and clinical research, including investigations into causes, diagnosis, early detection, prevention, and treatment, such as the studies highlighted below: 

  • investigators are using animal models to study how the neurotransmitter serotonin establishes connections between neurons in hopes of discovering why these connections are impaired in autism
  • researchers are testing a computer-assisted program that would help autistic children interpret facial expressions 
  • a brain imaging study is investigating areas of the brain that are active during obsessive/repetitive behaviors in adults and very young children with autism
  • other imaging studies are searching for brain abnormalities that could cause impaired social communication in children with autism
  • clinical studies are testing the effectiveness of a program that combines parent training and medication to reduce the disruptive behavior of children with autism and other ASDs 

Where can I get more information?

For more information on neurological disorders or research programs funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, contact the Institute's Brain Resources and Information Network (BRAIN) at:

BRAIN
P.O. Box 5801
Bethesda, MD 20824
(800) 352-9424
http://www.ninds.nih.gov

Information also is available from the following organizations:

Association for Science in Autism Treatment
389 Main Street
Suite 202
Malden, ME   02148
info@asatonline.org
http://www.asatonline.org
Tel: 781-397-8943
Fax: 781-397-8887
Autism National Committee (AUTCOM)
P.O. Box 429
Forest Knolls, CA   94933
http://www.autcom.org
Autism Network International (ANI)
P.O. Box 35448
Syracuse, NY   13235-5448
jisincla@mailbox.syr.edu
http://ani.autistics.org
Autism Research Institute (ARI)
4182 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA   92116
http://www.autismresearchinstitute.com
Tel: 619-281-7165
Fax: 619-563-6840
Autism Society of America
7910 Woodmont Ave.
Suite 300
Bethesda, MD   20814-3067
http://www.autism-society.org
Tel: 301-657-0881 800-3AUTISM (328-8476)
Fax: 301-657-0869
Cure Autism Now (CAN) Foundation
5455 Wilshire Blvd.
Suite 2250
Los Angeles, CA   90036-4234
info@cureautismnow.org
http://www.cureautismnow.org
Tel: 323-549-0500 888-8AUTISM (828-8476)
Fax: 323-549-0547
MAAP Services for Autism, Asperger's, and PDD
P.O. Box 524
Crown Point, IN   46308
info@maapservices.org
http://www.maapservices.org
Tel: 219-662-1311
Fax: 219-662-0638
Autism Speaks/National Alliance for Autism Research
2 Park Avenue
11th Floor
New York, NY   10016
contactus@autismspeaks.org
http://www.autismspeaks.org
Tel: 212-252-8584 California: 310-230-3568
Fax: 212-252-8676
National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education Programs
P.O. Box 1492
Washington, DC   20013-1492
nichcy@aed.org
http://www.nichcy.org
Tel: 800-695-0285
Fax: 202-884-8441
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
31 Center Drive, Rm. 2A32 MSC 2425
Bethesda, MD   20892-2425
http://www.nichd.nih.gov
Tel: 301-496-5133
Fax: 301-496-7101
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Information Clearinghouse
1 Communication Avenue
Bethesda, MD   20892-3456
nidcdinfo@nidcd.nih.gov
http://www.nidcd.nih.gov
Tel: 800-241-1044 800-241-1055 (TTD/TTY)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
National Institutes of Health, DHHS
6001 Executive Blvd. Rm. 8184, MSC 9663
Bethesda, MD   20892-9663
nimhinfo@nih.gov
http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Tel: 301-443-4513/866-615-NIMH (-6464) 301-443-8431 (TTY)
Fax: 301-443-4279

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 "Autism Fact Sheet," NINDS. Publication date April 2006.

NIH Publication No. 06-1877

Back to Autism Information Page

Prepared by:
Office of Communications and Public Liaison
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892

NINDS health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient's medical history.

All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the NINDS or the NIH is appreciated.

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