Therapeutic Interventions for Autism

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The most common therapeutic interventions for autism are occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). When exploring therapeutic interventions for your child, there are many options to consider. Therefore, you will want to make a prioritized list of your child’s needs. Take into consideration your child’s strengths and learning style as well as family finances and values. Parents should do their research in order to find the therapeutic interventions that match your child’s unique needs.

** Important Reminder**

Before we begin, we'd like to point out that not every therapy or therapist will be a good fit for your child. After all, there are good and bad professionals in every field. For this reason, we recommend that parents talk to other families in their communities for recommendations. Furthermore, interview the therapist and request to observe sessions. Above all, watch your child for warning signs of abuse or neglect. If you feel apprehensive, stop the therapy and re-evaluate.

To learn more about keeping your child safe, please read TACA’s article on Risk Reduction Strategies for Physical and Sexual Abuse.

Traditional Therapeutic Interventions

In this section, we will talk about some of the most common therapeutic interventions for autism. As mentioned above, please take your child's individual needs and learning style into consideration when choosing therapeutic interventions and therapists.

Speech Therapy

Speech Therapy focuses on improving communication and feeding skills, including oral motor development, verbal language skills, Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), social communication, and feeding therapy.

During the initial evaluation process, a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) will assess your child’s understanding of language and their ability to communicate through non-verbal and verbal gestures. Additionally, SLPs can evaluate your child's ability to chew and swallow food and liquids to develop a treatment plan.

Providers:

  • Speech Language Pathologist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Public school district
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational Therapy (OT) assists your child to perform activities of daily living (ADL) such as manipulating toys in play, handwriting, dressing, feeding, bathing, and working.

During the initial evaluation process, an Occupational Therapist will evaluate your child’s trunk and upper body strength, joint range of motion, muscle tone, fine motor milestones, hand-eye coordination, manipulation of objects within their hands, sensory (sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste) awareness, and activities of daily living. Afterwards, the therapist, along with your input, will develop goals for your child and a plan of how to achieve these goals.

Providers:

  • Occupational Therapist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Public school district
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay

Physical Therapy (PT)

Physical Therapy (PT) focuses on gross motor development including coordination, movement and balance, gait, motor imitation, and play skills. In addition, physical therapists work with adaptive equipment like braces, seating devices, wheelchairs, and specialized car seats.

Providers:

  • Physical Therapist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Public school district
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay

Behavioral Therapies

There are a number of different behavioral therapies available, which can leave parents feeling confused about which approach to take.  Below, you will find a brief overview of the most common behavior intervention programs. Use it as a starting point in determining whether or not behavior therapy is a good fit for your child and, if so, which approach best meets their individual learning style and needs.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Based on B.F. Skinner’s theory of Behaviorism, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy aims to improve adaptive learning skills, communication, and behavior through breaking down tasks into small steps, repetition, and reinforcement. ABA therapists train Register Behavior Technicians (RBTs) to implement your child’s treatment plan. Research-based evidence shows benefit from therapy when a child receives 20-40 hours of ABA therapy per week. ABA is the only therapeutic treatment for autism approved by the FDA.

Providers:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

Possible Funding Source:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Public school district
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay
(DIR)/Floortime

Developmental, Individual-differences, Relationship based model (DIR)/Floortime is a child-centered, play-based therapeutic model that focuses on reaching functional emotional developmental milestones to create a foundation for learning and development.

Providers:

  • Certified DIR therapists
  • Psychologist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay
  • Some BCBAs incorporate DIR/Floortime, but bill insurance for ABA therapy
Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) is a behavior therapy where parents are trained by RDI Consultants to implement a cognitive-development program based on positive relationships, family connectedness, shared experiences, flexible problem solving, and resilience.

Providers:

  • RDI Consultants train parents to implement RDI at home

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Private pay

Complimentary Therapeutic Intervention Options

Below you will find a brief description of some other types of therapeutic interventions that are available to help you decide which options may be a good fit for your child.

When making decisions, keep in mind that play and therapy are the work of a child with autism. Please be sure to include plenty of free time in your child’s schedule so they can relax and participate in activities of their choice. After all, a life with balance includes rest.

Options are listed in alphabetical order for convenience.

Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic Therapy is physical therapy that takes place in a pool. Additional benefits to physical therapy performed in water include sensory stimulation from hydrostatic pressure, water resistance for strength training, and body awareness. 

Providers:

  • Physical Therapist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Private Pay
Chiropractic Therapy

In Chiropractic therapy, misalignments of the spine, called subluxations, are manually corrected. This alleviates pressure on nerves and improves nervous system functioning. Specially trained chiropractors can evaluate for primitive reflex integration and provide nutritional guidance.

Providers:

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Private pay
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) specially trained therapists work with individuals and families to strengthen mental health, develop coping strategies, and improve emotional regulation. Common issues addressed in CBT are anxiety, depression, anger, eating disorders, and difficulty handling stress.

Providers:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Private pay
Feeding Therapy

In Feeding Therapy, a speech therapist, occupational therapist, or both will evaluate and implement a treatment plan for feeding issues including; sucking, chewing, swallowing, gagging, and sensory defensiveness with food textures. In some cases, a nutritionist or dietician may be consulted for nutritional advice.

Providers:

  • Occupational Therapist
  • Speech Language Pathologist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay
Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy utilizes horses as a therapy tool for improved sensory, neuromotor, and cognitive development.

Providers:

  • Hippotherapy certified:
  • Physical Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Speech Language Pathologist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Private pay
Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI)

In Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration (MNRI), specially trained professionals assess and create a treatment plan for primary motor reflex patterns and integration.

Providers:

  • MNRI Certified Practitioners:
    • Occupational Therapist
    • Physical Therapist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Private pay
Music Therapy

Music Therapy uses music therapeutically to address behavior, communication, sensory, motor, self-regulation, and cognitive functioning.

Providers:

  • Certified Music Therapist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Private pay

Neurofeedback

Sometimes referred to as EEG biofeedback, Neurofeedback utilizes computer-based brain training to analyze and retrain the client’s brainwave activity to a more controlled pattern.

Provider:

  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • Naturopathic doctor with specialized training

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Private pay
Primitive Reflex Integration

During Primitive Reflex Integration therapy, professionals assess and develop treatment plans for retained primitive reflexes. Primitive reflexes are naturally present in infancy and disappear through normal development. Reflexes that do not integrate may contribute to developmental delay and sensory issues.

Providers:

  • Occupational Therapist
  • MNRI Provider
  • Brain Balance Center
  • Functional Neurologist
  • Chiropractor

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Private pay
Sensory Integration Therapy

In Sensory Integration therapy sessions, specially trained occupational therapists expose people who have sensory processing issues to a variety of sensory stimuli and play-based activities in a structured, thoughtful way.

Provider:

  • Occupational Therapist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Public school district
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay
Social Skills

Social Skills programs teach social skills through direct instruction and repetition. Professionals use a variety of techniques including role playing, Social Stories, social scripts, typical peers, or a standardized curriculum to promote social skill generation.

Providers:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
  • Psychologist
  • Public School District
  • Social Worker

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Public school district
  • Private pay
Verbal Behavior (VB)

Based on the principles of ABA, Verbal Behavior (VB) teaches communication through connecting words to their function. Words are divided into four functions: echoics, mands, tacts, and intraverbals.

Providers:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
  • Speech Language Pathologist

Possible Funding Sources:

  • Private health insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Public school district
  • State Early Childhood Intervention Program (ECI)
  • Private pay

*All content of this article is for informational purposes only. Furthermore, it is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For this reason, always seek the advice of your physician, therapist, or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have.