Autism | NAMI



Treatment plans for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are tailored to each person’s unique needs. These can consist of medications, therapy or both. Many therapists work closely with autistic individuals using a variety of therapies to help increase social and communication skills.


Educational and behavioral approaches are often a main feature of the overall treatment plan for children. Most health care professionals will implement an early intensive behavioral intervention, involving the child’s entire family in education and training. In some early intervention programs, therapists come into the home to deliver services. Other programs deliver therapy in a specialized center, classroom or preschool. Types of therapy may include:

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). ABA is one of the most researched behavioral therapies for autism. It teaches children positive behavior while discouraging the negative. A child, for example, may be directed to hand his therapist a pencil. If he does, he will receive a reward, such as praise or a small toy. If he doesn’t, he will receive a prompt, such as the therapist moving his hand to the pencil.

Floor time. This therapy targets speech, motor or cognitive skills through its focus on emotional development through interactive play between parents and children. Overall, it aims to help children learn a number of developmental skills, including interpersonal interaction, emotional thinking and advanced communication.

Education and development. Most children with autism respond well to highly structured, specialized treatment, especially in a school setting. Teachers and parents should discuss how to develop a plan that works best for the child’s needs. Suggestions may include:

  • Smaller classes with individual time with teachers and therapists
  • Focusing on tasks that may be difficult for a few hours a day
  • Learning skills for adapting to new situations
  • Having structure and a schedule to reduce distractions


There are no FDA-approved medications for the core symptoms of ASD. Two antipsychotic medicines, Aripipazole and Resperiodone, have been approved for irritability associated with autism. Other off-label medications are best used in combination with psychotherapy and other interventions. They should target specific symptoms with an outcome to measure their effectiveness. Please consult a psychiatrist on the best medication plan for the individual.

Complementary And Alternative Approaches

CAM, known as integrative medicine, looks at other factors that can have a positive influence on the symptoms of ASD.

  • Melatonin is a natural sleep supplement. Many people with autism have sleep disorders, and melatonin helps regulate sleep cycles. Sleep patterns are important to regulate to help with other symptoms like repetitive behavior.
  • Nutritional Supplements, like multivitamins, can help replenish nutrients, especially when a person has an unbalanced diet. They can be good for overall health
  • Gluten and Casein-Free Diet has led some families to report that taking certain foods out of their children’s diet has helped with their behavior. Foods with wheat or dairy may irritate the GI tract, which in turn increases ASD symptoms.

NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).