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Standard Healthcare and Autism

Group of people with autism in a dramatherapy groupAdult teaching a child with autismChild with autism sitting on a therapy ballTeenager with autism and a teacherChildwith autism riding a horse

Introduction

Standard  healthcare (also known as conventional medicine, Western medicine or allopathic medicine) is a system of healthcare based on the 'Western model' of evidence-based practice for diagnosing and treating conditions.

A wide range of approaches are part of standard healthcare, all of them accepted and used by a large majority of healthcare professionals in the UK and other Western countries. Standard healthcare includes many different disciplines including art therapies, diets, medication, medical procedures, neurology, occupational therapy, osteopathy, physiotherapy, psychology, psychotherapy, speech and language therapy, and therapeutic recreation.

In practice, standard healthcare staff often work as part of a team with other healthcare providers (and sometimes teachers and parents) to provide a package of care designed to meet the needs of the individual.

Standard healthcare is used to treat an enormous range of conditions (such as cancer, depression and stroke). Some standard healthcare practices are also being used to treat some of the problems faced by autistic people, including the core symptoms of autism (such as difficulties with social interaction) and some of the associated problems (such as anxiety).

The hypotheses behind different standard healthcare practices vary from one practice to another. For example, physiotherapy is based on the idea that human movement is central to the health and well-being of individuals. Psychology, on the other hand, is concerned with all aspects of behaviour and with the thoughts, feelings and motivations underlying that behaviour.

Evidence

The scientific evidence for the use of the various forms of standard healthcare to help autistic people varies enormously from one form of standard healthcare to another. For example, the evidence base for the use of psychological practices and medication is considerably stronger than the evidence base for the use of diets.

Risks and safety

The risks from standard healthcare vary enormously from one type of healthcare practice to another. For example, some medications may cause significant side effects whereas speech and language therapy is unlikely to cause any
significant side effects.


Specific Forms of Healthcare


Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is the assessment and treatment of physical and psychiatric conditions using specific, purposeful activity to prevent disability and promote independent function in all aspects of daily life.

In practice, occupational therapy may be used to help an autistic child to achieve and maintain normal daily tasks such as getting dressed, engaging in social interactions, completing school activities, and working or playing.

The occupational therapist may use a wide range of different interventions, techniques and tools. For example she may create games which help the individual to socialise with other people. Or she may use sensory techniques to help the individual process sensory information more effectively. Or she may help the individual to find and use the right kind of computer software.

Various claims have been made for the role of occupational therapy and also for some of the specific techniques and approaches used by some occupational therapists when treating people on the autism spectrum. For example, the College of Occupational Therapy reported that: ‘Evidence shows that by working collaboratively with the child and the family to identify and achieve their goals, occupational therapists enable children with ASD to participate more fully in everyday life, reduce parental stress and increase feelings of confident parenting."

More Information

Please see 


Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy (also known as physical therapy) is based on the idea that human movement is central to the health and well-being of individuals.

In practice, physiotherapists may use a wide range of techniques and strategies to help autistic people get the most out of his or her movement.

For example, they may work with on basic movement skills, such as sitting, standing and playing. They may also work on more complex skills such as kicking, throwing and catching.

Various claims have been made for physiotherapy, and also for some of the specific techniques and approaches used by some physiotherapists when treating people on the autism spectrum. For example, a review of the use of vigorous physical exercise in people with ASD found that exercise interventions may decrease "stereotypy, aggression, off-task behaviour and elopement."

More Information

Please see Publications on Physiotherapy


Psychiatry

Psychiatry is the branch of medicine concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental health problems.

Mental health problems that may be diagnosed and treated by a psychiatrist include: anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders and sleep disorders.

The psychiatrist may use a wide range of different interventions, techniques and tools. For example, they might prescribe antipsychotic medications or provide cognitive behaviour therapy to help someone overcome their anxiety.

Various claims have been made for the role of psychiatry and also for some of the specific techniques and approaches used by some psychiatrists when treating people on the autism spectrum. For example, the Royal College of Psychiatrists claims that, while there are no known cures for autism, multidisciplinary teams (which often include psychiatrists) can help children and families in many ways. These include making a diagnosis, giving people information, managing behavioural difficulties, helping to develop social communication and emotional skills, treating co-occurring conditions, and using medication in some cases.


Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behaviour: how we think, feel, act and interact, individually and in groups. Psychology is concerned with all aspects of behaviour and with the thoughts, feelings and motivations underlying that behaviour.

In practice, psychologists help people with all sorts of problems, working with them to bring about change for the better. For example, a psychologist may help autistic people to deal with social interactions.

The therapist may use a wide range of different interventions, techniques and tools. For example, they may use many of the interventions described in the section on behavioural and developmental interventions or in the section on psychological interventions. They may also work with a number of other professionals (such as teachers) and parents and carers.

Various claims have been made for the role of psychologists, and also for some of the specific techniques and approaches used by some psychologists when treating autistic people. For example, the Oxford Educational Assessment Centre claims that educational psychologists may be able to help with the assessment and treatment of issues such as significant difficulties with language development, significant difficulty in engaging in social interactions, an inconsistent response to sensory input, and a very restricted range of interests and activities which may be highly focused and repeated constantly.

More information

Please see the section on Psychological interventions


Speech and Language Therapy

Speech and language therapists work to assess, diagnose and develop a programme of care to maximize the communication skills of individuals who experience speech, language and other communication difficulties.

In practice, speech and language therapists do more than just teach an individual to speak. They may also teach someone how to understand and use a range of other skills, such as what non-verbal signals mean and how to take part in a two-way conversation.

Speech and language therapists use a wide range of techniques and strategies. For example, they may teach non-verbal children how to use electronic devices or manual signing systems.

Various claims have been made for the role of speech and language therapy and also for some of the specific techniques and approaches used by some speech and language therapists when treating autistic people. For example, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association claims that speech and language therapists "play a critical role in screening, diagnosing, and enhancing the social communication development and quality of life of children, adolescents, and adults with ASD."

More information

Please see


Notes on Allied Healthcare Professionals


Related Pages

Related Glossaries


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Updated
26 Feb 2019