Understanding Autism: Types of Therapies Available

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. It affects 1 in 68 children in the United States, making it more common than childhood cancer, cerebral palsy, or cystic fibrosis. Boys are four times more likely to have ASD than girls.

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for autism, as each child’s needs are unique. However, there are many different types of therapies available that can help children with ASD improve their skills and quality of life. Here are seven of the most common therapies used to treat autism.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a type of therapy that focuses on changing specific behaviors. According to the Autism Parenting Magazine, ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to encourage the desired behavior, while also working to reduce problem behaviors. In their guide to ABA therapy, they note that this therapy can be used to help children with ASD improve their social skills, communication skills, and learning abilities. There are three main types of ABA therapy: discrete trial training (DTT), verbal behavior therapy (VBT), and pivotal response treatment (PRT).

Discrete Trial Training

Discrete trial training (DTT) is a type of ABA therapy that involves breaking down the desired behavior into small, manageable steps. For example, if a child is working on learning how to make eye contact, the therapist may start by teaching them to look at a specific object, like a toy.

Once the child can do that consistently, the therapist will then move on to teaching them to make eye contact with people. This process is repeated until the child can make eye contact with people spontaneously and consistently.

Verbal Behavior Therapy

Verbal behavior therapy (VBT) is a type of ABA therapy that focuses on teaching children with ASD how to use language effectively. This includes teaching them how to make requests, have conversations, and express their thoughts and feelings. VBT also teaches children how to understand the speech of others.

Pivotal Response Treatment

Pivotal response treatment (PRT) is a type of ABA therapy that focuses on teaching children with ASD how to respond to pivotal moments, or key points, in their environment. These moments can be anything from making eye contact with someone to transitioning between activities. PRT uses positive reinforcement to encourage the desired behavior.

For example, if a child makes eye contact with another person, they may be given a small prize, like a sticker.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy (OT) is a type of therapy that helps children with ASD develop the skills they need for everyday life. This includes everything from learning how to dress themselves to being able to eat with utensils.

OT can also help children with ASD improve their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and sensory processing. Fine motor skills are the small muscle movements we use for tasks like writing or threading a needle while gross motor skills are the large muscle movements we use for tasks like running or riding a bike. 

On the other hand, sensory processing is how our brain interprets the information it receives from our senses. For example, some children with ASD may have trouble processing the sensation of touch, which can make it difficult for them to tolerate being hugged or having their hair brushed.

OT can help children with ASD learn how to cope with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). SPD is a condition that causes difficulty processing information from the senses. This can make it difficult for people to tolerate certain sensations, like loud noises or being touched.

Speech Therapy (ST)

Speech therapy (ST) is a type of therapy that helps children with ASD improve their speech and communication skills. ST can help children with ASD learn how to use words and sentences, understand what others are saying, and express their thoughts and feelings. ST can also help children with ASD improve their social skills.

On the other hand, if a child has difficulty with expressive language, ST can help them learn how to use alternative methods of communication, like sign language or picture boards.

ST is also closely entwined with Social Skills Training (SST). This type of therapy focuses on teaching children with ASD how to interact with others and make friends. SST can help children with ASD learn how to take turns, share, and understand the feelings of others. Sometimes, SST is combined with ST to help children with ASD learn how to use the communication skills they are developing in therapy.

Floortime/DIR

The DIR model, which stands for “Developmental, Individual-differences, and Relationship-based,” is a type of intervention that focuses on helping children with ASD develop relationships with others and develop their strengths.

The DIR model was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Dr. Serena Wieder. It is based on the idea that all children, including those with ASD, go through six natural stages of development. These stages are self-regulation, intentional two-way communication, complex communication, relational thinking, symbolic thinking, and creative capacity.

The DIR model is unique in that it emphasizes the importance of relationships in a child’s development. It also acknowledges that every child is different and will develop at their own pace.

Floortime is a type of intervention that is based on the DIR model and it involves playing with your child in a way that is responsive to their interests and abilities. It is important to follow your child’s lead, rather than trying to direct the play.

For example, if your child is interested in a toy car, you might roll the car back and forth between you. As your child becomes more engaged, you can start adding in simple rules, like “the car has to stop at the red light.”

The goal of floortime is to help children with ASD develop the skills they need for social interaction and communication.

Therapies for autism spectrum disorder come in many different shapes and sizes. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so it is important to find the therapy that best fits your child’s needs. The several therapies we’ve described are just a few of the options available.

Also, these therapies usually work best when they are combined with other interventions, like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or medication.

With the right support, children with ASD can make significant progress in their development.