UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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Autism therapies are helpful in increasing function and quality of life for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Each therapy is usually tailored to the specific individual and their needs. Because of this, one type of therapy is not suitable for everyone and there are a wide variety of therapies available.
An occupational therapist can tailor a combination of strategies to help a child in how they respond to individuals, situations, and their environment. The therapist may engage the child in physical, developmental or play activities as well as help them to develop adaptive strategies.
- The American Occupational Therapy Association: Supporting parents of children with autism: The role of occupational therapy
- Autism Speaks: Occupational therapy
If a child is having trouble communicating, speech therapy may be beneficial. It can help with language development as well as speech and social communication. A child can learn verbal as well as non-verbal cues and responses, including facial expressions, through this type of therapy.
- Indiana University Bloomington: The role of the school speech language pathologist and the student with autism
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder)
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
This type of therapy focuses on the psychology of how we learn and may include aspects such as positive reinforcement of wanted behaviors along with extinction of problematic behaviors. Via a variety of methods, a child can be taught new skills.
- Eden II Programs: What is applied behavioral analysis
- Association for Science in Autism Treatment: Applied behavioral analysis
Social Skills Classes
Both adults and children with autism can benefit from social skills classes. The courses teach methods and understanding pertaining to communication, engagement, empathy, and social skills. This helps the student to gain more confidence socially and interact with peers and the community more easily and with higher levels of success.
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Evidence-based practice brief: Social skills groups
- University of Louisville: Starting a social skills group for individuals on the autism spectrum
Horse riding can help children with autism increase and develop speech and motor skills. It can also aid in emotional and sensory development via the experience of bonding with and riding the horses. These skills can reach into other aspects of life and social development.
- Children’s Theraplay Foundation: The official definition of hippotherapy
- Rhode Island Department of Health: Resource guide for families of children with autism spectrum disorders
Gluten Free/Casein Free (GFCF) Diets
A GFCF diet is a strict elimination diet that removes gluten as well as milk products. Many people believe that this diet is beneficial because the children may be allergic or highly sensitive to some or all of these ingredients. It is thought that the allergy or sensitivity may make symptoms of autism worse.
- Minnesota Autism Resource Portal: Top ways a gluten free diet can help kids with autism
- Michigan State University: Facts about gluten
Psychologist / Psychiatrist Sessions
Seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist can be beneficial in a variety of ways. If medication is needed, a psychiatrist should be able to prescribe it. If an individual needs a treatment plan including other types of therapy or support, it is often a psychologist who will suggest and oversee the various aspects of this. Talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, may also be useful in many cases.
- Centers for Disease Control: Screening and diagnosis
- National Institute of Mental Health: Treatments and therapies
Floor time therapy encourages parents to get down to their child’s level (quite literally, near the floor) and to play and engage with the child in ways that they understand and are capable of. This helps with interest in the world, self-regulation, communication, and emotional development.
- Florida Health Department: The Greenspan floor time model
- University of Vermont: The benefits, drawbacks and challenges of a DIR floortime model for children with autism
Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
With this parent-led type of therapy, parents are taught how to guide their children through cognitive milestones. Positive reinforcement is used to help a child with their social skills, self-awareness, and adaptability. Eventually, as a part of the process, the child progresses to group interactions and play with peers.
- Friendship Circle: Helping children with autism: Relationship development intervention
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
This is a type of early nonverbal symbolic communication training. The process includes prompting, cuing, and modeling to help with development in aspects of communication. This is not directly speech related.
- University of Utah: Utah classroom models for teaching children with autism
- Leaders Project: Picture exchange communication system (PECS)
Swimming / Aqua Therapy
Aqua therapy may help with sensory processing and modulation. It can help children to improve their sensory-processing skills in a comfortable environment. Physical activities and new experiences are important in helping children with autism to strengthen their sensory-processing skills.
- Bellarmine University: Aquatic therapy for children with autism spectrum disorder
Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)
This is a play based and child-initiated form of therapy. It focuses on self-management skills, multiple-cue responses, and motivation. It includes natural reinforcement, in which a child is rewarded with what they are working towards.
- UC Santa Barbara: Pivotal Response Treatment
- Virginia Commonwealth University: Pivotal response training: Another evidence-based practice
Music can stimulate both hemispheres of our brain, which may make it easier to learn relationship building skills and to work on self-awareness. This is done through interacting with the instrument, and then by interacting with others through the instrument and music.
- New York University: What can music do? Rethinking autism through music therapy
Auditory Integration Training (AIT)
This type of therapy is intended to reduce a child’s sensitivity to sound as well as problems with processing sounds. It is done in a series of short 30-minute sessions in which the child will listen to increasingly complex music via headphones.
- American Academy of Audiology: Auditory integration training
- Understood: Auditory training therapy: What you need to know
Mega-vitamins and nutritional supplements are often used to treat children with ASD due to the belief that they may be deficient in some nutrients because of restricted food choices or health conditions.
- University of Rochester: Feeding, eating, and nutrition in autism spectrum disorders
Children with autism may benefit from individualized learning plans that take their own unique needs into account in order to meet academic benchmarks.
- Autism Society: Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
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