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Can Behavior Treatments Help Aspies?
Asperger's syndrome is the mildest form of autism. It occurs in 1:250 people. As a brighter spotlight has been shone on autism, more is being done to find a cure and develop effective treatments for this condition.
For individuals with Asperger's, combating this illness requires a multifaceted approach. Below are some of the more commonly known and widely used methods.
Communication and Social Skills Training
This method consists of explicitly teaching desired communication and social skills. The skills are broken into trials. The Aspie is then taught the targeted skill and given repeated opportunities to practice it. Once the desired level of proficiency is reached, the skill is considered mastered. Examples of "teachable" skills would be gesturing, taking turns during a conversation, making eye contact, understanding humor, and speaking with natural tone and inflection.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Some Asperger's persons are prone to tantrums, blunt speech, obsessive behavior, and anxiety. During cognitive behavior therapy, triggers for the negative behavior are first identified. Then strategies are developed and implemented to improve the targeted behavior. For example, an individual who experiences anxiety in crowded places may be regularly taken to a mall or popular restaurant. The time they spend in a crowded area is incrementally increased until an acceptable threshold of toleration is met.
Occupational and Physical Therapy
For both children and adults with sensory integration issues or poor gross and fine motor skills, occupational and physical therapists work to improve these skills. Specialized games, exercises, and activities have been developed to address impairments in coordination.
Speech and Language Therapy
Autistic children with unusual or little-to-no speech usually receive speech or language therapy. Aspies receive speech and/or language therapy to learn to use intonation and expression when speaking, the rules of conversation, and other skills which address using speech and language in social interaction.
A limited number of medicines have been given to Aspies to address different symptoms of the condition. A few that have had some success are: Aripirazole (for irritability), Guanfacine (for hyperactivity and inattentiveness, Olanzapine (helps to reduce repetitive behavior), and Melatonin (to regulate sleep patterns).
It must be stressed that none of these medications claims to cure Asperger's. They only address some of the physical aspects of the disorder.
Alternative Medicines and Therapies
Parents, caregivers, doctors, and Aspies who are wary of prescription medicines to treat some of the symptoms of the disorder have also turned to alternative behavior treatment for Asperger's syndrome. This includes taking vitamin supplements such as vitamin B6 and magnesium, vitamin C, canosine, and omega-3 fatty acids. Research has verified that these particular nutrients offer some benefits for Asperger's persons. However, many traditional medical professionals are wary of advising people to use them
Dietary changes have also been used to deal with Asperger's. Some parents and medical professionals believe that some of the physical manifestations of Asperger's are related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other gastrointestinal issues. They blame undiagnosed food allergies or intolerances for irritability and tantrumming. Gluten-free and casein-free diet plans have found large numbers of supporters in the autism community. Unfortunately, there is currently very little in the way of longitudinal studies which support the effectiveness of these diets. Parents have provided anecdotal evidence that these diets have helped to lessen or stop some negative behaviors.
Presently there is no cure for Asperger's or any form of autism. However, by using various treatments and therapies including behavior treatments for Asperger syndrome, many affected individuals have improved the social and communication skills that are key to living a happy and healthy life.
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Asperger's Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. com April 15, 2011.
Asperger's Syndrome:Treatment and Drugs, MayoClinic.com November 18, 2010.