(NEW YORK) -- While there is no cure for autism, there is no shortage of purported treatments to manage the range of symptoms associated with the wide spectrum of the disorder. And many parents of newly diagnosed children find themselves inundated with overflowing and at times conflicting treatment recommendations.
But three study reviews published Monday in the Journal of Pediatrics found that early intensive behavioral interventions are more effective for autism symptoms than medical interventions.
Some of the common forms of medical treatment that are prescribed for children with autism include antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotics -- drugs often used to treat patients with schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and depression. One of the three reviews also looked at secretin, which is used to alleviate gastrointestinal issues that are found in some children diagnosed with autism.
The reviews found little evidence to support the purported benefits of these treatments.
On the other hand, behavioral interventions vary widely. They focus on improving a child's learning by helping children with autism develop physical and social skills.
Interactive, avatar-based computer programs are among the more innovative approaches to behavioral intervention. While they are considered experimental, many experts say these novel efforts may prove effective in some children with autism.
Dr. David Beversdorf, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Missouri, said a computerized approach that can teach behavior skills by simulating the "real world" could help ease the social pressure for children who may feel anxious in their actual environment.
"It can be approached as a 'game' rather than as a 'training,'" said Beversdorf.
But like many autism interventions, these behavioral technologies may not work for every child on the spectrum. Initial studies show that avatar-based technology is not effective for non-verbal or lower-functioning children. These studies also suggest that computerized programs are unable to replicate subtle facial cues that could help a child learn in the real world.
Still, many experts say avatar technology can be one of many cost-effective and easily-accessible approaches to supplement other forms of autism therapy.
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