Contrary to popular belief, autism is not a mental illness. Affecting 1 in every 94 children in Canada, autism is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder which impacts the way people perceive the world and interact with their peers. In spite of how the media and cinematography choose to portray autistic people as prodigies or highly intelligent, sadly over 50% have an IQ under 70 and 30% of children cannot speak more than a couple of words. As much as we, as humans, like to believe that even in the darkest of situations, there is always a happy ending, life does not always go that way.

The disorder is complex and no two people experience it the same way. About 20% also suffer from epilepsy; others battle bowel disease or depression and anxiety, in addition to autism symptoms. Alarming figures published last year in the American Journal of Public Health report that preventable injuries, such as drowning, suffocation or asphyxiation are leading causes of death among people with autism. It is estimated that they are three times more likely to die because of this sort of injuries.

The situation is even more worrying when you come to think that there is currently no cure available for autism, but science has been making strides in finding ways to help address challenges and make the disorder more manageable.

Understanding behavioral therapy and how it works

The most commonly used type of therapy for autism is applied behavioral analysis (ABA). Its patient-centricity and flexibility are probably the main characteristics that made it successful. ABA aims to help children with autism develop social skills, from learning how to write and using the bathroom to empowering one to engage in social dialogue and even finding a job. Because of how the program is thought out – involving as much as 40 hours a week and a step by step breakdown of objectives, it also promotes discipline, education and confidence.

In a critical review of ABA in autism spectrum disorders it is being revealed that a specific type of therapy called early intensive behavioural intervention can significantly improve a child’s IQ and social skills, and amazingly there is evidence that some cases have been completely cured. Although patients and their families should not embark on this journey expecting a 100% full recovery, that is in most of the cases the goal.

Most importantly, it is important to know that frequency can make a very big difference. The vast majority of study papers have concluded by saying that more hours every week translate into more benefits. Parents should bear in mind that the treatment might get intensive and depending on the case, the child might be experiencing aggressive or distressful symptoms at first, which is natural since there is a sudden change in his environment and schedule. But by crossing that threshold and persisting, you can rest assured that they are in good hands, and eventually it will be better.


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Sara T. Loving

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