Greater understanding of autism has led to the development of a number of effective behavioral therapies for the 1 to 1.5 million Americans currently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.
Because the behavioral symptoms that underlie the various disorders on the autism spectrum -- impaired social interaction, fixation on objects, tantrums, resistance to change, resistance to physical contact, lack of eye contact and difficulty communicating -- differ in intensity from disorder to disorder and even from individual to individual, early diagnosis has been difficult. However, University of Michigan researchers have developed criteria that allow autism spectrum disorders to be diagnosed as early as age 2.
This is crucial because early diagnosis is a key to helping children with autism spectrum disorders develop language and social skills. Once a diagnosis is made, individually tailored, behavioral interventions can begin -- including play therapy and the so-called "Hug Machine," a curious device that a child can use to apply deep pressure to his or her body without having to make physical contact with another person.