Autism Spectrum Disorder Interventions: An Overview

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Autism spectrum disorders include autism, Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. Although these conditions cannot be cured, interventions can reduce the severity of symptoms and help children learn and become independent adults. What follows is an overview of the most commonly used autism spectrum disorder interventions.

Educational Interventions

Educational interventions use special strategies to teach academic skills. These include visual materials, structured tasks and activities, and multi sensory learning. They also involve making an IEP or an Individualized Educational Plan that helps to create goal oriented lesson plans for the child. Many children are able to integrate into a regular classroom and curriculum as they become older.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Children on the autism spectrum have problems processing sensory information. This leads to many stimulatory behaviors including rocking, spinning, excessive chewing, and occasionally tantrums or meltdowns. Sensory integration therapy aims to help the child cope with various sensory experiences. In this therapy, sensory experiences are given to the child in a planned, and controlled manner. The child learns to process and tolerate different types of sensations including visual, tactile, auditory, gustatory, olfactory and movement sensations. This is usually done by an occupational therapist, or a therapist trained in sensory integration.

Social Skills Training

A variety of techniques are used to teach social skills including modeling, role play and rewarding the child for socially appropriate behavior. Here are two social skills training techniques that are specifically used as autism spectrum disorder interventions.

Social Story Books: These are books with special stories that teach children about various social situations and how they are supposed to behave in them.

SODA strategy: This is a strategy that is taught to older children with autism spectrum disorders. S-O-D-A stands for Stop, Observe Deliberate and Act. It is a methodical way of teaching children to observe their surroundings, and the various social interactions happening around them, and then planning and acting accordingly.

Life Skills Training

Life skills training aims at helping people with ASD become independent adults. Children with autism are taught various life skills like shopping, banking and time management. Life skills training is an ongoing aspect of training a child with ASD and starts from home, and continues in school. Halfway homes and transitional homes are also special settings where people with autism spectrum disorders are taught life skills.

Communication Interventions

Many people with autism remain non verbal even till adulthood. Some are able to learn to speak while others need assistive communication like PECS to be able to communicate.

Auditory Integration Training: Some children on the autism spectrum find it difficult to tolerate sounds of a very high frequency or loudness, others do not respond to sounds when they have background noise. In this treatment, a machine is used to provide filtered music and slowly decrease the person’s sensitivity to various frequencies, and to train them to tolerate background noises. This can improve communication. The effectiveness of this treatment has not been proven; however, many people have found it beneficial.

PECS: Picture Exchange Communication System ( PECS) is a proven and widely used method to help improve communication in children with autism. Children are taught to use pictures to communicate various needs.

Behavior Interventions

Applied behavior Analysis: This is the use of behavior therapy techniques to help children with autism spectrum disorders socially significant skills. A large number of studies have shown that ABA can help children learn new skills, and be more independent. Thus, it is endorsed as an effective method by many organizations including the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Pediatrics

Lovaas Model: The Lovaas Model involves early intensive intervention of up to 40 hours a week for children on the autism spectrum. It is based on the principles of ABA. This therapy promotes short treatment sessions (3-5 minutes) followed by equal amounts of free play.

SCERTS Model: This aims to promote the development of ASD children and their families. It focuses on social communication, emotional regulation, and transactional support. It is increasingly being used by special educators and therapists in this field.

Complementary Interventions

Dietary Interventions: A lot of families who have children with autism advocate the effectiveness of gluten free diets, zinc supplements, yeast supplements and other such specialized dietary and nutrition interventions.

Music Therapy: Music therapy uses music to help children with autism to communicate their feelings. It has been found to be effective in the area of improving communication and expression. Music therapy is most effective when done by specialized trainers.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: This is a form of therapy where the person with autism is given pure oxygen to breathe inside a pressurized chamber.There are some studies that show that it is effective. It does not have any harmful effects. Further research is required in this area to understand more about this therapy and its effectiveness.


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