What Are the Most Common Forms of Therapy for Autism?

child and autism therapist

The idea of slow-motion probably predates film but it was also likely to be hard to explain in the days before the cultural touchstone. In much the same way, describing the experience of autism to someone who has not seen one of its many many forms first hand, lacks necessary clarity.

It’s so difficult to explain autism to the layman that seeking help to learn about the condition or its treatments becomes daunting. How does one find the right therapy for autism to help a loved one engage with the world?

Fortunately, living in a time in which the internet exists, you can always find some information to help out.

Or, in this case, a guide to provide an overview of common therapies, how they work, and why you should explore them for your needs.

Therapy Choices

Choosing a therapy option comes down to a few different priorities. Although expenses shouldn’t be a barrier in treatment, they often are. Not all treatments are covered by an insurance plan and not all treatments will be available near you.

Each therapy focuses on different routes and goals. Taking an inventory of what is and is not going well with your particular loved one helps you to narrow down your therapeutic options.

Also, while you want to know as much as you can about a therapy before you start, it’s not a great idea to read the major papers on the treatments. Stick to a functional understanding to avoid getting bogged down.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy covers a set of different behaviors. A speech therapist works to increase social skills such as eye-contact as well as increasing vocabulary to express feelings accurately.

Speech therapy builds on other therapies easily and enables a child to engage with the world. It works particularly well with cognitive behavioral therapy and is covered by many insurances.

Occupational Therapy

Where speech therapy is an autism treatment focused on reaching out, occupational therapy is about personal work. The goal of occupational therapy is to aide children with autism in performing everyday maintenance tasks.

These increase a sense of self-sufficiency and create a routine that helps structure a day. Occupational therapy helps to address weak skills and issues related to work, play, and school. 

Social Skills Therapy

Social skills classes provide a broader approach to socialization than speech therapy. Both aim to improve interactions and form bonds.

Practicing social situations in a safe environment and role-playing possible scenarios help acclimate a child to the world outside the home. 

Therapeutic Horseback Riding

Also known as hippotherapy, horseback riding is a social and physical therapy. Students learn to react and adjust to the horse’s needs and motion.

This expansion of non-verbal communication helps children to express empathy and intra-personal bonds. Well-meaning horse owners will offer their animals to assist but it’s far better to work with a doctor and animals that specialize in treatment to avoid injury. 

Picture Exchange Communication Systems

This is an autism therapy designed for non-verbal or limited verbal students. Children are taught to trade pictures to receive rewards or to participate in activities.

Garnering interest in reciprocity is key to this therapy’s success.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is one of the earliest therapy options adopted for working with autism spectrum children. The therapy isolates negative reactions and behavioral patterns and redirects to positive ones.

The success of CBT rests on providing tools to a child to avoid falling into an inescapable emotional/mental hole. This same therapy has been used to help adults avoid bad habits and addictions. 

As a mental health treatment, it is covered by policies that provide other mental/emotional coverage. 

Applied Behavioral Analysis

If you only can deal with one therapeutic modality at a time, ABA is an excellent starting point. There’s a lot involved with ABA therapy as it covers a lot of territory.

A large body of studies backs up the effectiveness of early ABA therapy in creating lasting gains. Be aware that some of those gains come from hands-on intensity. 

Adults with autism have been working to reshape some of the initial goals of ABA, opening it up to be about maximal functionality for the patient, dispensing with ideas of ‘normal’ function. 

Since ABA covers so much it needs some explanation of the different techniques and pathways used. 

Breakdown of ABA Therapy for Autism

Intensive programs for ABA can include more than 40 hours a week of therapy. The approaches break down many elements of a day. Play, self-care, social, communication, and other skills are evaluated and then put into a highly structured set of routines.

Pivotal Response Treatment

Some aspects of life are more important than others. Possessing some skills carries more meaning for one person over another. 

The goal of PRT is to isolate these developmental stages and provide additional support to gradually build confidence in other areas. 

Discrete Trial Training

Like CBT, this type of ABA breaks down a behavior into trackable steps. The positive steps are repeated and the negative steps trained out. 

Verbal Behavior Intervention

This is a dedicated approach to increasing articulation through verbal skills. Unlike speech therapy, this deals with word acquisition and use over communication and non-verbal approaches. 

Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention

General ABA is designed for children over the age of five. The purpose of EIBI is to start before five years of age and begin building as quickly as soon as a diagnosis has been made. 

This is one of the aspects of ABA that has come in for some criticism. Early childhood psychologists and therapy practitioners worry about building high expectations into what is supposed to be a helpful practice for very young children. 

The goal is to improve the quality of life for the child, which is better served on individual criteria, not an overarching vision of normalcy.

Community is Key

No single solution will fit every person. This is true in all walks of life but is even more pertinent when dealing with therapy for autism. 

Learn what you can, consider the needs of the autistic person, and then give it a try. Maintain hope and an open mind, and you should find a path that works for you. 

For more helpful content, please feel free to take a look at the rest of the site.

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