Although there’s no cure for autism, a range of therapies can help reduce the most common symptoms associated with the condition. However, early diagnosis and interventions are crucial for achieving long-term positive effects on skill development. Continue reading to find out what types of early autism solutions are available and how they can help autistic children reach their full potential.
What Type of Therapy Do Autistic Children Need?
Most therapies for children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are based on either a behavioral or developmental approach. The two approaches are often combined and used in speech, occupational, physical, and social development therapies, depending on the child’s individual needs.
Behavior therapies, generally referred to as applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapies, are used to help children with autism learn new skills, reinforce positive behaviors, and reduce unwanted ones.
Techniques typically used in behavioral therapies include:
- Discrete Trial Training (DTT), a technique that breaks down skills into smaller components that are easy to learn.
- Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI), a comprehensive instruction method used for autistic preschoolers.
- Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), a play-based treatment initiated by the child.
- Joint Attention, Symbolic Play, Engagement, and Regulation (JASPER), the approach that identifies and treats the principal deficit areas in autistic children.
Developmental therapies help promote social interactions by teaching the necessary social, communication, and daily living skills.
Examples of developmental therapies include:
- Developmental Social-Pragmatic (DSP) treatment, a model that uses everyday interactions between autistic children and the caregiver in order to promote communication skills.
- Developmental and Individual Differences Relationship (DIR) therapy, also called Floortime, that builds on strengths, interests, and already existing communication skills to motivate autistic children to learn new skills.
- Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), a family-centered approach designed to build relationships through sharing various emotional and social experiences.
- Responsive Prelinguistic Milieu Teaching (RPMT), an intervention for autistic children who are nonverbal or who have significant speech delays.
Certain therapies for autism combine elements of behavioral and developmental approaches. These therapies are often shown to be the most effective ones. For example, behavioral therapy may show better results if it also includes elements of developmental therapies that focus on learning skills.
Combined therapies include:
- Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), a play-based therapy that helps develop social communication in children with autism.
- Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support (SCERTS) that uses elements from several other approaches, including ABA, Floortime, and RDI.
Therapy-based supports for autistic children target specific difficulties when it comes to development or communication skills. They are often used together with, or as part of, other therapies and include:
- Speech therapy that addresses challenges with language and communication
- Occupational therapy that helps develop fine motor and daily living skills
- Key Word Sign strategy, the use of signs and gestures to support language development
- Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) which allows communication through pictures.
Below, we focus on the benefits of ABA therapy for children with autism.
What Is Aba Therapy?
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the most popular therapy for autism offered in early childhood. It focuses on changing unwanted behaviors while reinforcing desirable ones through positive reinforcement in the form of rewards and other incentives.
ABA therapy can help your child with autism build and strengthen social and communication skills, such as:
- Increase attention, focus, and memory
- Learn to follow directions and instructions
- Improve language skills
- Learn to initiate conversations and respond to questions
- Help understand social cues like facial expressions and body language
- Reduce problematic behaviors such as aggressivity and meltdowns
- Help acquire basic academic and pre-academic skills.
Read on to find out more about the different types of early intervention therapies.
What Is Considered Early Intervention Therapy?
Early interventions take place at or before preschool age. An early intervention therapy can be used already at the age of 2 or 3, as soon as your child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. At this age, your child’s brain is still forming, which increases the chances of treatments being effective in the long run.
There are several different types of early intervention therapies that can help your child gain the basic physical, cognitive, communication, and emotional skills that they would typically learn in the first years of life. These therapies include:
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Hearing impairment services
- Nutritional therapy
- Psychological therapy
- Family training.
Autistic children often benefit from a combination of these therapies. In addition, they often need different therapies or therapy combinations at various stages of their development.
We’ve seen that there are many effective treatments that can help reduce autism symptoms, but you may be wondering whether early treatment increases the chances that your child will outgrow autism.
Can Early Autism Go Away?
Autism is typically considered a lifelong condition, although research shows that some children can outgrow a diagnosis. However, children who are likely to see radical improvement are those with normal or above normal IQ and mild autism symptoms that don’t include issues such as seizures, speech delays, learning disabilities, or severe anxiety.
And that’s not all. Results can only be achieved with rigorous long-term therapy. For example, ABA-based early intervention requires up to 40 hours of treatment per week for several years before you can see a significant improvement.
It is also important to keep in mind that even high functioning children who appear to outgrow autism often continue to struggle with sensory issues, communication difficulties, and other challenges.
Does Medication Help Autism?
Medication can’t cure autism, but it can effectively treat symptoms that autistic children may experience, for example:
- Stress and anxiety
- Hyperactive behavior
- Obsessive compulsive behavior
- Aggressive behavior
- Self-harming behavior
- Sleep disorders.
Medications that are used to treat these symptoms include:
- Typical antipsychotics (haloperidol, chlorpromazine, and fluphenazine) and typical antipsychotics (risperidone and aripiprazole) for reducing autism-related irritability
- Stimulants (dexamphetamine and methylphenidate) for a temporary increase in mental or physical functions.
Medications for treating symptoms of autism are most effective when combined with behavioral or developmental therapies.