What's better for autism? Pills or Parents?

There could be a new treatment option for kids with autism. Doctors are studying a new class of drugs and a new approach for parents.

Like most families who deal with autism, the Johnsons say they looked for years to find help for their daughter Emma.

And after volunteering for a different type of medical study, they found it.

Nashua Johnson, whose daughter has autism says, "They couldn't believe how much of an improvement, socially - that she was really starting to come out of her shell and focus."

What made the difference for Emma and what sets this study apart from others - is that it seeks to answer a simple question: What's best for kids with autism? Pills? Parents? Or, both?

To find out, Dr. Michael Aman with Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center is helping conduct the first large-scale study of a new pill for autism called Atomoxetine.

Dr. Aman says, "It actually works on a different neuro-chemical. And for this reason, we think that there's a better chance that it will work if one of the stimulants has failed to work."

It's been approved for years for kids with ADHD, but this is the first time it's being tested in autism.

It worked for Emma. But for other kids in this study, there is another component.

Not only will doctors measure the effects of a pill, they'll measure the effectiveness of parents.

Are pills the only help available?

In this study some parents will be taught professional intervention techniques allowing doctors to compare and contrast the two.

Dr. Aman says, "Obviously, it gives us an opportunity to look at each in isolation, but importantly, it enables us to look at the combination of the two treatments and to see if there is a bonus."   

Doctors say there haven't been many new treatment options for autism in decades, but by studying a new pill and a new role for parents at the same time, that could soon change.

Experts say psycho-stimulants were first used to treat kids with ADHD in the 1960s, and have been expanded to treat some kids on the autism spectrum.

  Since then, however, there haven't been many other medications developed.

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