Treatment Options for Children with Autism

It can be an emotional and overwhelming time when your child is diagnosed with autism. There are a variety of treatments and interventions available for your child. Some programs take place in your home with trained therapists and may include parent training while other programs take place in a specialized center or classroom. Here is a list of some programs that may be available to your child:

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA
Behavior analysis is a scientific approach to understanding behavior, how it is affected by the environment and what the consequence of the behavior is. “Behavior” refers to actions (positive or negative); “environment” includes physical and social events that might affect one’s behavior; “consequence” refers to what happens immediately following the behavior.

Different methods of ABA are used to help your child learn to respond with appropriate behaviors. One of the most common methodologies is Discrete Trial Training (DTT).  DTT breaks down a task into smaller steps and uses positive reinforcement for the desired response. This is done repeatedly until your child can give the desired response without reinforcement.

Also known as Developmental, Individual-Difference, Relationship-Based (DIR), this approach teaches your child to develop using a combination of relationship-based behavioral management and structured teaching with both parents and therapists. Floortime often consists of a timed session where you interact and play with your child. These interactions foster emotional, intellectual and interpersonal skills.

Relationship Developmental Intervention (RDI)
This is a family based therapy that trains parents how to maximize their child’s participation in all interactions they have with them. Parents also learn how to guide their child to succeed in relationships thru experience-sharing-communication, self awareness, emotional regulation and flexible thinking. The success of this therapy can be measured when your child begins to reference you in social situations and begins to desire building mutual relationships with others.

Social Communication/ Emotional Regulation/ Transactional Support (SCERTS®)
This is an educational approach that teaches your child to initiate communication in everyday activities that is spontaneous and relevant in multiple settings with a variety of partners. Family members are collaborators and this program is flexible to respond to the individual differences of you and your child. This approach prioritizes Social Communication (SC), Emotional Regulation (ER), and Transactional Supports (TS).

Social Skills
Social Skills groups teach social interaction skills and techniques ranging from basic skills (such as making eye contact) to complex and subtle skills (like building a block tower with others). There are two popular models for teaching social skills to children with autism:

  • Integrated Play Groups© a trained therapist guides imaginative and social play with children who have limited play skills (novice players) playing mutually with typical peers (expert players).
  • “Michelle Garcia Winner of Social Thinking” Children are made more aware of situations where they need to apply social skills, how they must act like detectives to figure out what they should say/do, and what are “expected” and “unexpected” responses to different scenarios.

Speech therapy can vary greatly depending on the needs of your child:

  • PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) uses graphics and pictures to facilitate communication with children who are non-verbal; they may also benefit from typing, sign language and imitation.
  • Pragmatics teaches your child appropriate social interactions. Children with autism have difficulty with appropriate social responses such as “Excuse Me” and “I’m sorry”.  Your therapist may use Social Stories to teach pragmatics.
  • Conversation Skills teaches using language socially by working on back-and-forth exchanges. FCT may be used to teach this skill.
  • Abstract Concept Skills can be a challenge for children with autism. Metaphors are taken literally, and concepts such as “few,” or “justice” are not understood. Speech therapy can help build these skills.

For more information on Speech Therapy, please see our article on Introduction to Speech and Language.

Occupational Therapy (OT)
Occupational Therapists help children develop daily living activities, with careful attention to enhancing fine motor skills (handwriting, buttoning, shoe tying, etc.) Many OTs focus on sensory processing disorders, also known as sensory integration therapy, providing interventions to help your child appropriately respond to information coming through their senses. Intervention includes a variety of activities that help your child to better manage their body in space; your child may do play dough, swing or receive deep pressure in a session. For more information, see our article on Sensory Processing Development

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