Defining Mild Autism
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV( DSM-IV) and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the most basic definition of autism is "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviors."
The term mild autism is not part of the official lexicon in an autism diagnosis. Terms like mild, moderate, and severe were added by laypersons to show how impacted an individual is by the disorder. Mild autism usually refers to persons on the autism spectrum who have been diagnosed with autism, but have average to above average intelligence, few if any communication problems (speech delay, nonverbal, ability to recognize nonverbal communication cues), but some difficulties with social interactions. Many people with mild autism also do not exhibit the repetitive behaviors (self- stimulation) that more adversely impacted autistic persons engage in. The condition known as Asperger's syndrome is also commonly referred to as mild autism.
Mild Autism Therapies
In treating mild autism or any form of autism for that matter, a multifaceted approach is usually employed. Below are some mild autism treatments that consist of therapies to address some of the symptoms.
Communication and Social Skills Training
Also known as Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), this therapy consists of explicitly and repeatedly teaching the needed communication and social skills to an individual. For example, teaching a mild autism individual how to read nonverbal communication such as frowning, sadness (crying), or anger might involve using emotion picture cards to so that they can learn how to recognize these emotions in others.
Social skills training might involve the autistic person learning how to play a game with others which requires turn taking, learning appropriate table etiquette, making friends (how to introduce yourself to strangers), and other desired social skills.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
This therapy develops skills to help control negative behaviors such as temper tantrums, interrupting, and anxiety. For an autistic child who may tantrum to express when he or she wants a preferred food, the therapist will give the child other tools to communicate their needs such as picture cards and assistive technology. The child is taught how to appropriately request desires without resorting to tantrums.
A person with mild autism may need speech therapy to learn the rules of conversation. Learning how to wait for a response to a question, not interrupting the other speaker, or avoiding engaging in long, one-sided conversations are skills that can be addressed in speech therapy.
Occupational or Physical Therapy
Some people with autism have poor gross (running, walking, kicking a ball) or fine (writing, pincer grip) motor coordination and sensory integration issues (sensitivity to light, smells, sounds, touch). Occupational or physical therapy uses games, sports, and other activities to help strengthen gross or fine motor skills and lessen reactions to certain sensory stimuli.
Mild Autism Medications
There are currently no medications prescribed specifically as a mild autism treatment. However, for autistic persons who have other conditions or symptoms (anxiety,depression, hyperactivity) some medications have proved helpful.
Aripirazole – can be used to treat irritability
Guanfacine (Intuniv) – prescribed for hyperactivity and inattention
Olanzapine (Zypran) – used to reduce repetitive and stereotyped behaviors
Melatonin – prescribed to help with sleep disorders
As noted earlier, these medications are used to treat secondary symptoms of mild autism and not the disorder itself.
Some families reject the use of psychotic drugs to treat mild autism. Instead they rely on alternative treatments to address behavior and physical impairments associated with the condition. Vitamin supplements such as Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and Omega-3 are used by some to stabilize and improve the immune system.
Others opt for dietary changes. In recent years gluten-free and casein-free diets have become popular with some in the autism community. The belief is that food allergies and sensitivities which lead to gastrointestinal problems contribute to or cause autism. By eliminating the offending foods (dairy products and yeast based), advocates of the diets claim that both behavior and physical problems can be lessened or even stopped.
Treating Mild Autism
What the world knows about autism has come a long way since the days of Hans Asperger. However, a medical cure is still a long way off. Through the use of therapy, alternative approaches and prescription medications, some individuals with mild autism have found the means to successfully manage their lifelong disorder.
Autism Treatment Overview,webmd.com, accessed April 12,2010
Autism Treatments and Drugs, Mayo clinic staff, accessed,May 27, 2010.