Best Types of Autism Therapy and Their Benefits

Behavioral Therapies

Therapy can help your autistic child live a life as normal as possible.

Behavior management is often a fundamental component of autism care. This type of autism therapy is beneficial in that it allows your child to build life skills such as independence, positive communication and healthy social interaction.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the oldest and most-researched behavioral method for individuals with autism, and is widely implemented in schools and treatment clinics. This type of autism therapy is based on the principle of encouraging positive behaviors and discouraging problem behaviors. Since the creation of ABA, many new behavioral interventions have been developed:

  • Floortime is relationship-based and child-focused.
  • Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication-Related Handicapped Children (TEACCH) applies visual cues to break tasks down into component steps.
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) uses picture symbols to facilitate communication.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) focuses on natural learning and the child’s motivations.

An interdisciplinary team of health care professionals can also support a program for a child with autism. Each can provide a specific intervention:

  • Physical therapists address issues with motor control, posture and balance.
  • Speech-language therapists deal with language development, particularly how children can use language to communicate and interact with others.
  • Occupational therapists find age-appropriate ways for the child to appropriately respond to sensory information and perform normal daily tasks to live independently and improve quality of life.

Biomedical Therapies

There are two principle branches of biomedical types of autism therapy:

  • Dietary changes involve eliminating foods that may cause allergies or adding foods, vitamins or minerals that your child may need. Although there is insufficient scientific evidence for these interventions, many parents have found that these food changes alleviate symptoms in their child. Consult with a nutritionist who can help you make safe diet changes.
  • Prescription medication can target specific symptoms of autism. In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of risperidone to reduce aggression. Some doctors also prescribe antidepressants or anti-psychotic medication to treat hyperactivity and irritability. Finally, there are also specific drugs for anxiety or seizures. Consult with your family doctor who can recommend the best medication and assist in monitoring the outcome as not all children respond equally.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Therapies

Families are increasingly supplementing behavioral therapy with CAM therapies upon recommendation from other parents. Despite limited scientific support, there is growing anecdotal evidence that these types of autism therapies not only relieve symptoms, but may also improve the holistic health of a child with autism. Alleged benefits include relaxation, sensory integration, better communication and increased social interaction. Parents also claim that these therapies naturally promote bonding between child and caregiver. Keep yourself well informed and discuss these options with your doctor to make sure you are choosing safe therapies for your child.

The most popular CAM therapies fall into two categories:

  • Mind-body treatments include yoga, music therapy, art therapy and animal therapy, such as hippotherapy and dolphin therapy.
  • Body-based interventions include chiropractic manipulation, massage therapy, holding therapy and auditory integration therapy.

References

  • US Department of Health & Human Services: Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee
    (https://iacc.hhs.gov/strategic-plan/2010/treatments_interventions.shtml)
  • Autism Speaks
    (https://www.autismspeaks.org/whattodo/index.php)
  • "Summary of Biomedical Treatments for Autism"; Dr. James B. Adams; April 2007
    (https://autism.asu.edu/Additional/Summarybiomed07.pdf)
  • "Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Clinics of North America"; Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders; Levy, et al.; October 2008
    (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2597185/)

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