Healthcare for children with autism: the Autism Treatment Network


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Abstract

Purpose of reviewAutism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are a group of a neurodevelopmental disorders affecting social, communicative, and behavioral functioning. ASD is a heterogeneous group of disorders, often accompanied by associated medical issues. Thus, the development of effective treatments is a complex task requiring consideration of diverse etiologic and phenotypic characteristics. Recent attention to the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions in ASD children has led to the formation of a new international collaboration to improve autism care, the Autism Treatment Network (ATN).Recent findingsNumerous studies have highlighted the high prevalence of gastrointestinal and sleep disorders among ASD children. Problems in communication – including being nonverbal – make the diagnosis and treatment of these conditions more difficult. Although a number of studies suggest links between neurologic impairments and gastrointestinal dysfunction and disordered sleep, these relationships remain unproven. Recent work by the ATN has begun the development of clinical guidelines in these areas, based on clinical consensus, adapting the model developed by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. New funding has also supported the network's development of a robust clinical research program focused on improving the physical health and care of children with ASD. These efforts promise more systematic and consistent approaches to diagnosis and treatment of these conditions.SummaryImproved understanding of the underlying pathology of ASD and associated conditions, and the development of a common purpose across multiple treating sites, can improve the consistent and coordinated healthcare of children with autism.

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