10 Beneficial Therapies & Services for Children with Autism

Finding the right therapies and services for a child with autism can be a little overwhelming.  We understand the importance of finding the right fit for your child and your family. Our goal at Blossom is to lend a hand, provide support, guidance, and resources to help lift this weight from your shoulders. If you’re diving into the world of therapy, social skills programs, and services, let us help with a list of ten therapies to get you headed in the right direction.  

ABA Therapy

ABA Therapy, or Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy, is a widely used approach to measure behavior, teaching social skills, and evaluating a child’s progress. ABA Therapy is an evidence-based approach focused on increasing the child’s positive behaviors while decreasing any harmful or problematic behaviors. This style of therapy works on creating improvements and lasting results in children on the autism spectrum. ABA Therapy is individualized and carefully tailored to each child’s specific needs, with the goal of helping them gain the skills to cope, interact, and learn as a typically developing child does. It strives to build a strong foundation of basics for the child; such as imitation and listening skills. From there, more complex skills can be introduced and built upon. Some of these skills may include self-care and social skills.

Many behavior specific therapies and services incorporate ABA Therapy or variations of it because it has been proven to be successful for many children with autism. ABA Therapy can be offered successfully as home-based ABA in the natural environment as well as center based. 

Centered-Based ABA Therapy

Center-Based ABA Therapy offers a few benefits that home-based ABA may not be able to. It provides a structured environment, offering the child many advantages. Children can learn to adapt to the routine of traveling to the learning center. This skill is particularly helpful in preparation for school and includes incorporating social skills programs. A variety of tools are provided by the center to be used during therapy. It can also offer the chance for children to interact in group settings.

Home-Based ABA Therapy

A home-based ABA option offers its own set of benefits, it is efficient for teaching children the various skills they need to use in their natural home environment. These skills may include learning to feed themselves, practicing bathroom skills and daily bedtime routines. Implementing skills learned in a home-based ABA fashion allows you and your family to help strengthen your child’s skills in his everyday environment. Home-based ABA is extremely flexible in accommodating your child’s needs to help ensure the maximum results. Many times, home-based ABA therapy is more practical for the family’s schedule or may even help reduce anxiety or negative behaviors that an unknown environment may create for your child. Home-based ABA therapy facilitators have often noted increased success when the child can learn in safe and familiar surroundings. Increases have even been seen in their play skills and speech and language improvements when home-based ABA is used.

Home-based ABA therapy tends to reduce the stress on parents and family as well and can often increase their level of interaction. Parent involvement during home-based ABA sessions has continued to show increased success in the child’s learning rate. Home-based ABA therapy also allows the therapist to work on specific behaviors and skill sets that directly relate to the child’s natural environment. 

Early Childhood Intervention

Research on early intervention has shown that using intense ABA Therapy has been successful in helping children with autism catch up to children their age by the time they turn six. When children have received less intense ABA intervention, their progress was not as remarkable. ABA Therapy should include all the following areas for the most significant results:

·       Self-help

·       Self-awareness

·       Social skills

·       Language

·       Cognition

·       Play

·       Behavior

ABA Therapy is a daily routine that should be implemented in order to be therapeutic, even when combined with additional therapies.

School-Age Intervention

By the time a child enters school, many of their needs are more behavioral and self-help based. ABA Therapy concentrates on establishing behaviors that will help them be able to thrive in the school environment without interfering with their learning. Social skills and independence become a broad focus and provide lifelong skills beyond the classroom.

Occupational Therapy

The focus of occupational therapy offers children with autism the ability to develop the daily skills needed to become more independent. Occupational therapy provides sensory integration and addresses areas of delay in meeting milestones. Some of the  significant skillsets focused on include: self-feeding, bathing, and dressing. Concentrating on both fine and gross motor skills also strengthens areas such as the child’s handwriting and participation in physical activities. Encouraging and working with your child at home, on skills learned during OT, will help enhance the skills they need.

Occupational therapy addresses many areas, including:

·       Developmental delays

·       Difficulties with visual perception

·       Muscle weakness

·       Poor coordination skills

·       Difficulties with attention and self-regulation

Speech and Language Pathology

Speech therapy is beneficial for children with autism by teaching them the skills they need to communicate more efficiently. Speech-language pathologists focus on areas such as rhythm and rate to help improve communication skills. They also focus on non-verbal skills as well as verbal. Helping the child to improve their overall communication abilities to express themselves is the main goal. 

Depending on your child’s communication level, speech and language therapy may focus on a range of skills, including:

·       Eye contact

·       Reading or conveying facial expressions and body language

·       Holding and engaging in conversation

·       Improving the current level of language skills

·       Developing alternative methods of communication such as using pictures or sign language

There are many areas the pathologists may focus on, such as helping to strengthen muscles in the child’s mouth to develop or improve speech sounds. They may also work with your child on reading and imitating emotion and tone. Speech-language pathologists often offer group therapy focused on improving social skills. Learning to communicate with friends and family and use appropriate behavior in various environments such as school, is also a vital component of this therapy. You may even find that some pathologists can address swallowing and feeding issues as well. 

Feeding and Swallowing Therapy

Children with autism can be met with many feeding difficulties for a variety of reasons. While swallowing and chewing may be an issue, many times they stem from sensory related issues. Feeding and swallowing therapy addresses many challenges, such as food aversions, and may use positive reinforcement to achieve the desired behaviors. Focusing on each child’s individual needs may include the therapist practicing tasting new foods and textures.

Social Skills Programs

Various social skill programs work with your child to use and understand social cues and behaviors. This may include socially acceptable rules and routines in multiple settings such as home, school, or in public. Social skills programs encourage play and social interaction with peers in small groups while working on participation and building friendships. Depending on your child’s needs, a one-to-one social skill program may also be offered, allowing time to build up your child’s comfort level with social interaction.  Many social skill programs offer a variety of activities meant to encourage communication, interaction, and the opportunity to observe. Social skill programs help children with autism learn to cope with everyday issues they may face and improve various life skills. Children in social skills programs often incorporate ABA therapy use by:

·       Role-playing

·       Modeling

·       Using social stories

·       Using behavioral scripts

Sensory-Based Therapies

Many times, children with autism experience sensory sensitivity. Sensory-based therapy deals with amplified senses that make it hard for the child to learn, concentrate, or focus.  This therapy helps the child learn to respond to outside stimuli he or she may have aversions to. Children with autism are often unable to filter out the unnecessary extras around them and may experience sensory overload. One helpful therapy in this situation is sensory integration.

Sensory Integration Therapies  

Using sensory integration helps the child learn to handle stimuli that may otherwise limit him from normal daily activities. Therapy suggested by The American Occupational Therapy Association may include:

·       Environmental Modifications: Increase or decrease the exposure and adaptations to the child’s environment such as adjusting lighting, or sound in the environment

·       Remedial Intervention: Combines motor and sensory activities and may include the use of equipment. Swings and massages are two such interventions

·       Adaptations and Accommodations: Helps modify or limit aversions such as limiting audio sensitivities with noise-canceling headphones or plugs

Pivotal Response Treatment

Using ABA Therapy principles, Pivotal Response Treatment helps the child develop language and communication skills, learn appropriate social behaviors, and decrease self-stimulated behaviors that are unwanted. Pivotal Response Therapists work on the “pivotal” areas each child needs improvement in, including self-management, motivation, and initiating interactions in a social setting. Social skills programs help enhance these areas. This type of therapy allows there to be improvements across many areas, rather than focusing in on just one. Benefits can be seen throughout the child’s behavioral, communication, social, and learning skills.

Pivotal Response Treatment also centers around motivation techniques and natural reinforcers. The child is rewarded for making an acceptable effort and attempting a task. If the child makes a good attempt to ask for a ball, the ball is then the reward. The reward is never an unrelated item like a gold star or lollipop, but a meaningful and desired outcome. Social skills programs are beneficial alongside PRT.

PRT has been used and studied for decades. Several studies have shown positive results in the communication skills of children with autism. It is a method best used in all areas of the child’s life, and most successful when practiced by everyone in the child’s life for consistency.

Relationship Development Intervention

Parents are typically the primary “therapists” in Relationship Development Intervention. The focus of this type of therapy is the child’s emotional and social skills while learning to form close relationships. Incorporating social skills programs is beneficial with this therapy. Connecting to others socially helps the child form attachments and often allows the ability to express him/herself to others. It is a family-based therapy that helps with many of the behavioral symptoms children with autism deal with.

RDI also aims to help the child develop the skills to cope with changes and understand things from other perspectives. Helping the child learn to take in, process, and integrate multiple sources of information at once is another essential goal. With the parent-child bond established to guide the child, you can then work on accomplishing various developmental goals. This treatment is also carried out in the child’s various environments, such as school.

The six objectives in Relationship Development Intervention include:

·       Social Coordination: Learning to control behavior to be able to participate in social interactions

·       Foresight and Hindsight: Anticipate things to come based on previous experience

·       Flexible Thinking: Learning to change plans and adapt as situations change

·       Emotional Referencing: Being able to learn from the experiences and emotions of others

·       Relational Information Processing: Being able to solve issues but don’t necessarily have a clear-cut answer

·       Declarative Language: Using verbal and non-verbal skills to express feelings and perceptions

Floor Time

Floor time can be a great alternate therapy for children with autism. Floor time emphasizes the child’s emotions rather than behaviors. This form of therapy is meant to be child-led while he or she chooses the object of interest. The parent or therapist is intended to follow the child’s lead, often time taking place on the floor. With floor time, the goal is to engage in the child’s play, sparking the child’s interest and catching his eye while sharing his experience and emotions. By spending this time with your child, you can take a glimpse from his point of view, while sharing a connection and working together on skills such as motor and language.

Family Education

The family is the child’s most important support system. Family education services should be tailored to meet the needs of your child and your family. Keeping the family educated and involved is a vital part of your child’s progress. Tips, resources, and support are provided to ensure your involvement during any of your child’s therapies. Many services offer parent coaching and training to help maximize the child’s success. You’ll be educated on learning to decrease distraction, help your child cope with change, and create daily routines. Providing education services for family allows your child to feel more at ease when away from his natural environment. It also gives you the tools you need to continue to implement these practices in your home.  

Now that you’re armed with knowledge and a jumping-off point, it’s time to find the services that best meet the needs of your child. Still, have questions? Our team at Blossom is always here to answer your questions. Contact us today and allow us to help find the services that are right for your child.

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