Your doctor might recommend one or several types of therapies to help you or your child cope with Asperger’s syndrome.
While it is no longer a specific diagnosis on its own — the American Psychiatric Association reclassified Asperger’s under the broader umbrella of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in 2013 — many clinicians still consider treatment options that are unique to Asperger’s traits.
Effective treatments can improve how someone with Asperger’s copes with social challenges, impulses, emotions, motor skill deficits, and other factors that might be impacting his or her life.
Options include therapy, medication, alternative approaches, and more.
Just as with other autism spectrum disorders, the sooner you start treatment for Asperger’s, the better.
What Types of Therapy Work for Asperger’s?
Several types of therapy are used to improve Asperger’s symptoms, including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) This type of “talk therapy” is typically used to help a person with Asperger’s better regulate his or her emotions and impulses. It can also help children and adults cope with anxiety or depression. CBT focuses on encouraging individuals to change their thoughts and perceptions and to recognize and alter specific behaviors.
- Sensory Integration/Occupational Therapy Kids with Asperger’s often have trouble regulating their sensory input. Additionally, they may struggle with activities that require fine motor skills. Sensory integration therapy helps children stabilize their senses. An occupational therapist shows kids how to perform certain exercises that can improve balance, hand-eye coordination, and responses to sounds or touches. The idea is that if you can better manage the information arriving from your senses, you can better regulate your movements and emotions.
- Social Skills Training and Speech-Language Therapy Most kids and adults with Asperger’s don’t have problems with language, but they may not know how to express their thoughts and feelings appropriately. Therapists use social skills training to help individuals learn ways to interact with peers. Speech-language therapy is another useful way to improve communication skills in someone with Asperger’s. This therapy can help kids recognize certain gestures and figures of speech. It can also lead to improved eye contact.
- Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) This is a comprehensive program that’s been used since the 1960s. It uses different approaches, such as positive reinforcement, to teach or change certain behaviors and skills in children and adults. A therapist customizes the program to each person’s needs. Several studies have shown ABA is effective at improving outcomes for kids with autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger’s. But some people, including some with autism, feel that ABA therapy is not helpful and can be harmful.
- Anger Management Programs that help people learn to control and cope with their anger may be helpful for children and adults with Asperger’s syndrome. Online anger management classes can be a convenient option for busy schedules.
- Support Groups Group programs, or support groups, may help kids and adults with Asperger’s work on social skills in a safe environment. Certain organizations, such as Autism Speaks, offer lists of resources in your area, which include support groups for parents and children.
- Family Therapies Parent training can equip caregivers with the skills they need to assist individuals with Asperger’s. This type of therapy can help those who interact most with the child to incorporate treatment strategies, such as social skills training and behavioral training, at home.
- Educational Therapies Well-structured educational programs can help children with autism spectrum disorders improve communication, social skills, and other behaviors. Educational therapies include many different activities and interventions.
- Neurofeedback Neurofeedback, a type of biofeedback, is a method that involves helping you learn to control your brain function. Research has shown it can improve attention, cognitive functioning, and other symptoms in people with Asperger’s. (1,2, 3)
Medication Can Help With Secondary Symptoms
There’s no medication approved to specifically treat Asperger’s syndrome. But certain drugs can help control secondary symptoms that often accompany the diagnosis, such as anxiety, hyperactivity, depression, or attention problems.
Some people with Asperger’s take medications like antipsychotics, stimulants, or antidepressants. Your doctor can help you determine if you or your child might benefit from these medicines. (2)
Alternative and Complementary Treatments
Between 28 and 74 percent of children with an autism spectrum disorder have been given some type of complementary or alternative treatment to help their symptoms. (4)
It’s important to know that many of these therapies have not been rigorously tested in carefully controlled scientific studies or have been tested and found not to be effective. Still, many people report anecdotal improvements.
Talk to your doctor before trying any type of alternative treatment. While some are harmless, others may be dangerous or make your condition worse.
Common alternative approaches for autism spectrum disorders include:
- Massage A massage can be calming for someone with Asperger’s, but there’s no hard data to show it can improve symptoms.
- Yoga Yoga can promote relaxation, make you more flexible, and improve balance. Some people believe it can help kids with Asperger’s relieve stress.
- Chelation Therapy This treatment is used to remove heavy metals from a person’s body, but it can be dangerous. Also, there’s no evidence to show it works for helping autism spectrum disorders.
- Hyperbaric Oxygen Some people believe breathing oxygen through a pressurized chamber can help symptoms. But this treatment isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and it hasn’t been proven effective.
- Horse Therapy Working with animals, such as horses, is a popular therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders. Many people believe the animals can be therapeutic.
- Art or Music Therapy Creative treatments that include art or music are sometimes used along with standard therapy to help lessen sensitivity to touch or sound.
- Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG) Infusions Some parents believe IVIG infusions can help symptoms of autism spectrum disorders, but there’s no research to show they work. (2)
Can Diet and Supplements Help With Symptoms?
Many parents believe that special diets improve behavior and symptoms in kids with autism spectrum disorders. There’s not much research to back up these claims, and if you do try a new eating plan, work with a dietitian to make sure your child receives adequate nutrition.
Two popular approaches include a gluten-free diet and a casein-free diet. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, while casein is found in dairy.
Other people try including supplements, such as:
- Melatonin This natural hormone may improve sleep in children with autism spectrum disorders. (5)
- Omega-3s Some very small studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help with symptoms, such as repetitive behavior, hyperactivity, and social behaviors. (6)
- Probiotics Some parents report that using probiotics can ease gastrointestinal problems in their kids.
- Vitamin Methyl B12 Injections of vitamin methyl B12 may improve social behaviors in kids with autism, according to existing research. (7)
RELATED: The Importance of Omega-3s in a Heart-Healthy Diet
Asperger’s Treatments: What’s the Takeaway?
Early intervention seems to be the key to success when it comes to treating Asperger’s. This means the earlier you start a therapy, the better.
Every child and adult with Asperger’s is different. You might have to try several treatment approaches before you notice improvement.
Often, a combination of various therapies is most effective.
Finding a trained clinician who can point you toward different options is a must. Autism Speaks has a list of professionals that you can contact in your area. (3)