If you’re reading this blog, I am assuming you have already had your child screened, evaluated and diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and now you are looking at what therapy might entail.
First things first, don’t panic!
Each child diagnosed with ASD is unique, therefore, all therapy techniques and goals will be tailored to fit each child individually. This blog will cover general therapies that may be recommended by your child’s pediatrician or doctor and what might be involved in those specific therapies. Again, every therapy will be individualized for a specific child, so not all of these therapies will be recommended and some may be more involved than others!
1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
This is one of the most widely used therapies for children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. ABA is more effective when used on children who are younger than five, but success can be seen in children who are older.
What Is It?
ABA helps teach social, motor, and verbal skills. They can also address reasoning skills and can address challenging behavior. The therapist will focus on these goals during play-based activities with the child and will observe them in their natural environments. This might even be in the daycare or playground setting, since this is where challenging behaviors usually occur.
Length of Therapy
The length of therapy varies, but usually it is very intensive and may include 20-40 hours a week. The therapist will work with the parents/guardians at home in order to increase carryover and consistency when the therapist is not present. Although time consuming, by you learning the strategies the therapist uses, it will increase generalization and decrease frustration for your child.
The drawback? This type of therapy can be very expensive. If your child is ages 1-3, you can attempt to get ABA therapy through early intervention service. After your child ages out of early intervention, you will have to go through insurance or pay privately if you want the services to continue!
2. Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
RDI training is relatively new to the therapy aspect of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Developers of the program believe that RDI is best suited for children who are younger, but increases and progress has been noted for children of older ages, as well.
What is it?
RDI focuses on teaching children to think critically and how to engage in social relationships with other people. To begin, it works with people that the child interacts with frequently, like their parents and teachers. It then broadens to include peers and people they only interact with occasionally (e.g., someone at the grocery store). It is very similar to other therapies for ASD because it focuses on social interaction and communication skills.
Parents are taught the strategies and techniques of RDI. Your involvement is key to the success of your child! Every moment that your child encounters is a teachable moment; they can learn different skills and strategies no matter the time of day or where you are.
RDI is relatively new to the field of ASD so there is not much data on the effectiveness of the therapy. The developers of the therapy have completed multiple studies that have shown positive changes in the children who are consistently utilizing the program.
In order to be successful, you will need to watch several instructional videos and may even need to attend conferences in order to receive training and information. You will also need to have regular contact with an RDI program consultant, which can be time consuming and expensive.
3. Sensory Integration and Related Therapies
Many children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder have difficulties with sensory information. These things may include sensitivity to noise, light, textures, and touch. Although many children do have issues in this area, some do not or are not as severe as others.
How it Works
When performing sensory integration therapy, studies have shown that working with a child in a one-on-one setting on this issues, has shown to decrease problematic behaviors and/or sensitivities. The therapist will focus on decreasing whatever area the child is overly sensitive to. For example, if your child is sensitive to touch, the therapist will gradually work on ways to desensitize the child over time. The therapist might stroke your child’s hand, use different fabrics on his/her arm, in order to decrease reactions to these items over time.
Therapy will also be very play-based and may seem like a game in order to not intimidate or scare the child. Your child will not be forced to do anything, but they will be strongly pushed in order to get your child to show improvement.
Different strategies may be used throughout the treatment session, including spinning in a chair or playing in a gym in order to decrease over-activity. Therapy may seem different and not much like traditional therapy, but have an open mind and be flexible!
Goals And Objectives for Therapy
Just like therapy approaches, goals and objectives will vary depending on your child’s ability level, tolerance and who is performing the therapy. The main therapist that you should be getting for your child is a speech-language pathologist (SLP). The SLP will focus on social interaction and communication by involving the parents, community, peers and the education system to create a well-rounded therapy program.
Goals that may be targeted during speech therapy can include:
- Electronic talkers – these are communication devices for children who are nonverbal
- Sign Language – These may be basic signs for needs/wants. You will need to use these signs consistently, as well!
- Using picture boards
- Using sounds or focusing on sounds to increase intelligibility
- Singing songs and rhymes to focus on stress and flow of sentences
- Social skills development – giving social scenarios
- Pragmatic Skills – turn-taking, eye contact
Again, not all children are the same, so techniques, goals and objectives will all vary! Trust your medical professionals, check out Speech Blubs and don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have!
Stacie Bennett has been practicing as a Speech-Language Pathologist for the past ten years. Currently, she works full-time at a vocational high school in New Jersey and have her own private practice. Feel free to contact Stacie if you have any questions!