Other Treatments

Full Video – 6 minutes

Hi. In this short video we’re going to quickly cover other effective, evidenced based therapies that can help your child with autism or who may be at risk for autism. 

The most important and effective therapy for autism is behavioral therapy, based on the science of applied behavior analysis, or ABA. For ABA, or behavioral therapy, to be as helpful as possible – there are some other therapies that can help. 

The most significant complementary, evidenced based therapy to ABA is speech therapy. Physical therapy and occupational therapy can also be helpful. We’ll talk about those in a minute, but let’s talk about speech and language therapy first because it is the most common, and effective evidenced-based complement to behavioral treatment. 

Please remember the information in this program is not meant to diagnose or treat. It should not take the place of consultation with a qualified healthcare professional.

Speech-language therapy addresses challenges with language and communication. It can help people with autism improve their verbal, nonverbal, and social communication. The overall goal is to help the person communicate in more useful and functional ways.

Communication and speech-related challenges vary from person to person. Some individuals on the autism spectrum are not able to speak. Others love to talk, but have difficulty holding a conversation or understanding body language and facial expressions when talking with others.

A speech therapy program begins with an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist (SLP) to assess the person’s communication strengths and challenges. From this evaluation, the SLP creates individual goals for therapy.

Common goals may include improving spoken language, learning nonverbal skills such as signs or gestures, or learning to communicate using an alternative method (such as pictures or technology).

Examples of the skills that speech therapy may work on include:

  • Strengthening the muscles in the mouth, jaw and neck
  • Making clearer speech sounds
  • Matching emotions with the correct facial expression
  • Understanding body language
  • Responding to questions
  • Matching a picture with its meaning
  • Using a speech app on an iPad to produce the correct word
  • Modulating tone of voice

If you think speech therapy may be helpful for your child, you can find a qualified clinician through speaking with your regular nurse or doctor. Again, you can also visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s AAC webpage for more information. 

Some people with autism find that using pictures or technology to communicate is more effective than speaking. Speech Therapists, or SLPs, are knowledgeable about this and can help.  

This is known as Alternative Augmentative Communication or AAC. Examples of AAC methods include:

  • Sign language
  • Picture exchange communication system (PECS)
  • iPads
  • Speech output devices (such as Dynavox)

The speech-language pathologist can help to identify which AAC method (if any) is right for someone with autism and teach him/her how to use the method to communicate.

Again, speak with your nurse or doctor and you can also visit the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s AAC webpage for more information. 

Children on the autism spectrum may have delays, differences or disorders in many areas. In addition to developmental delays, most have low muscle tone and experience difficulty with gross motor coordination (running, kicking, throwing, etc.). These issues can interfere with basic day-to-day functioning, and they’re almost certain to interfere with social and physical development. 

In fact, noticing some of these sorts of physical delays may be a clue that your child is at risk for autism. 

Physical therapists and occupational therapists are trained to help with these issues. Not only can they help your child to build muscle strength and coordination, but she can do so in the context of daily activity and play, making it more enjoyabel. As a result, physical functioning and social skills can improve at the same time. 

If you think physical or occupational therapy may be helpful for your child, you can find a qualified clinician through speaking with your regular nurse or doctor.

1. ABA for Autism Isn’t “One Size Fits All”

A professional behavioral therapist, trained and certified in ABA, will develop an individualized plan for the specific needs of each child. In all cases, however, they will measure the child’s observable progress learning specific skills, such as making a snack or using words. The behavioral therapist will chart these observable results to clearly see what is working and what is not.

ABA can help improve children’s communication skills, sharpen focus and attention, develop social skills and more. It is a fully customizable approach that allows therapists to be creative and adjust to the needs of the child, which increases the possibility of bringing about meaningful and positive change.

2. Progress Is Measured Over Time

When a child with ASD first begins a behavioral treatment, or ABA, plan, his or her therapist will identify individual goals. Therapists typically begin with simple, manageable goals, and then move onto more complex goals.

As the treatment plan progresses, therapists record specific results – or data, which they share with other advisors, as well as with parents and caregivers.

The data shows the therapist and parent how well the child is progressing, and how and when adjustments should be made to the treatment plan.

Consistently monitoring children’s progress is a key factor in ABA’s success. As their needs fluctuate, a child’s treatment plan is adjusted.

3. Learning Happens Everywhere

Although parents and caregivers may bring children to a clinic or may get therapy services in their home, it’s important to know that learning happens everywhere and all the time. This is a crucial part of the ABA philosophy.

Children can perform a task or skill with the support of their therapist, and should then practice their newly acquired skills in a variety of different environments. Going out into the “real world,” like the library, the playground or a restaurant gives children the chance to transfer their new skills to real life. This is what’s known as “generalization” and it’s a very important part of success.   

Parents are absolutely crucial to the success of an ABA or behavioral intervention program because they spend more time than anyone with their children and they know their children better than anyone else. 

Parents and caregivers must understand the skills their children are learning and should help the child generalize those skills.

4. ABA Isn’t About Punishment

Boiled down, ABA rewards preferred behaviors and gives consequences for undesired behaviors. Some people misunderstand what “consequences” means in this context.

It’s especially important to understand that ABA for autism is not about punishing children with autism when they demonstrate undesired behavior.

ABA therapists often use positive reinforcement to reward desired behaviors, but consequences might simply be the withholding of that positive reinforcement or reward. Learning within the ABA environment should be positive and enjoyable, helping children want to learn and grow.

5. Parental Reinforcement of ABA in the Home is Crucial

Parental involvement in ABA therapy is critical to its success. Sharing insight on the behaviors, triggers, responses, and preferences of your child will enable your child’s therapist to create an effective treatment plan and guide adjustments to the treatment plan ongoing.

Parents are crucial to helping their kids generalize the skills they are learning. Parents are in the best position to expose children to real-world situations in which they apply their newly developed skills. 

Many ABA therapy programs will offer regular sessions for parents, during which they train parents to support their children’s learning and skills maintenance at home.