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8 Types Of Autism Therapy For Children

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A child with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often has difficulty in communication and social interactions and tends to follow restrictive, repetitive behaviors. No two children in this spectrum are the same, nor are their treatment guidelines.

Experts believe that early interventions and diagnosis can help choose the right therapy tailored for every child. Therefore, identifying your child’s disorder and choosing a suitable autism therapy for children with the help of a trained professional is paramount. This further facilitates swift improvements in their social, cognitive, and overall development (1).

Read on to learn more about the various autism therapies for children and discuss with a trained therapist to choose the apt one for your child.

Types Of Autism Therapy For Children

Children who receive timely interventions and suitable therapies have reportedly shown significant improvements in autism-related symptoms. Since the therapies are different for each child, you may choose the most effective therapy for your child from the different types of autism therapies.

1. Play therapy

Children will never say no to playing. Right? So why not provide your child a therapeutic play? Play therapy is a powerful tool with many therapeutic benefits for a child from refining their listening and motor skills to encouraging them to communicate and become socially active. You may add some simple yet structured games that interest your child. The added benefit of play therapy is your child doesn’t need constant guidance. A little coaching and support are sufficient for exploring the benefits of play at home or outdoors.

The play therapy can be:

  • Directive: It is a play therapy with a guided approach. The parent or therapist is constantly engaged with the child and provides suggestions and guidance.
  • Non-directive: It is a play therapy that involves an unstructured approach where the child is left to play independently with fewer boundaries.

Play therapy includes sessions that are designed as per the individual requirements of a child. You may select play therapy along with associative playing and other alternative therapies that are best suited and at the same time delightful for your child (2).

2. Speech therapy

For a child with autism or ASD, language and communication defects are among the most common limitations. Speech therapy or also called speech and language therapy, addresses these challenges in a child with autism. The ultimate aim of this developmental therapy is to improve language skills and verbal and non-verbal communicative skills.

Some children with disabilities can learn verbally, while non-verbal communication (with signs and pictures) is more beneficial for others. A speech-language therapist undertakes this therapy by assessing your child’s challenges and suggests exercises or therapy sessions that may help your children through the following ways (3) (4).

  • Identify names of people and things correctly
  • Learn to use words in a better way to form sentences
  • Express their feelings and concerns with correct facial expressions
  • Improve the speed of speech and speech rhythm
  • Learn to communicate through sign language (hand signals) and pictures
  • Respond to a query and understand ways to answer questions
  • Strengthen the mouth, jaw, and neck muscles with the help of certain exercises

3. Applied behavior analysis

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a therapeutic approach intended to enhance social, communication, and learning skills. Experts believe that this therapy is ideal for children with ASD and other developmental conditions. ABA therapy focuses primarily on understanding and modifying a child’s behaviors, increasing language and social skills, and improving children’s attention spans and memory skills. The other goals of this therapy include the following (5) (6).

  • Positive reinforcement: The main strategy in ABA is to reward the child for using a skill or attaining a goal successfully. Positive rewards interest the children and encourage them to adopt meaningful behavior.
  • Understand antecedents: It involves understanding the events before a goal or behavior and their consequences, which are events after a behavior or attainment of a goal. It helps replace an undesired behavior with a more helpful one in your child.
  • Constant encouragement: It involves the encouragement of practice for even simple tasks, such as brushing or sharing things, which many children with autism may find difficult. The child is also encouraged to control undesired behaviors, such as controlling anger and emotional outbursts.
  • Development of social skills: It is conducted through regular peer interactions and impartment of self-help, academic, and routine-living skills in children.

ABA therapy is effective for the overall personality development of a child and is proven to be successful, when designed according to the child’s age, development, and requirements.

4. Medication therapy

As per CDC reports, there is no cure for autism or ASD. However, few medications are known to reduce the symptoms and help in managing the condition effectively. Medications might be beneficial to (7):

  • Maintain high energy levels
  • Improve the ability to focus
  • Bring down the symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Bring a positive change in child’s behaviors
  • Protect children from serious events such as seizures and self-injury

The most common medications used to treat autism spectrum disorder symptoms are:

  • Antipsychotics (Risperidone and Aripiprazole)
  • Antidepressants (Serotonin-reuptake inhibitors such as Prozac and Sarafem)
  • Hyperactivity medications and stimulants (Ritalin and Adderall)

These medications might have side effects and may not have a similar effect in all children. Hence, it is vital to discuss the suitable medicines with your child’s doctor and make sure to constantly monitor your child for any negative side effects of the treatment (1).

5. Dietary approaches

Although there is a lack of sufficient evidence and understanding of underlying mechanisms, alternative treatment options, such as nutritional therapy and specialized dietary treatments, have shown to be beneficial in some children with ASD (8). Some of the special diets include a casein-free diet and a gluten-free diet.

Diet-based therapies consider that insufficient nutrients and food allergies may cause symptoms of ASD in children. Therefore, dietary interventions often focus on eliminating certain potential allergens and including vitamin and mineral supplements (7). These diets are reportedly known to improve the symptoms and brain function in children with autism or ASD (9).

If you plan to include diet therapy into your child’s treatment regimen, make sure to talk to their healthcare provider or a registered dietician who might help you to design a proper, personalized diet plan as per your child’s need.

6. Floortime

Floortime is a therapeutic approach that mainly focuses on emotional development and studying a child’s sensory reactions (reactions to sights, sounds, and smells). In this therapy, the parents or therapists get down to the floor to play and interact with the child, hence the name floor therapy. It is a great way to engage the child in interactions with others while having fun with their favorite games.

A study noted that the inclusion of about 14 hours of floor time-based therapy in a week for a year aided in the developmental progress of 47% of children with autism (10). It also led to a significant reduction in the severity of the symptoms. Floortime sessions can help foster emotional ideas, complex communications, relationship building, and learning skills for children with autism or ASD (11).

7. Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is a useful method that improves life skills, motor skills, and cognitive skills in children with autism and ASD. The therapy includes a wide range of activities and sessions to encourage the child to learn the living skills needed daily and become more independent. The common areas that are focussed in this therapy include (12) (13):

  • Caring for self
  • Brushing, bathing, and self-grooming
  • Eating by themselves
  • Improving oral motor skills, such as biting and chewing
  • Playing and interacting with nature
  • Improving gross motor skills, such as running, jumping, and climbing
  • Enhancing sensory integration, i.e., the ability to respond to sound, light, touch, and noise
  • Enhancing fine motor skills, such as coloring, writing, and craft-making (cutting with scissors)
  • Improving visual motor skills that help in perceiving visual stimuli

Your child can practice these skills at home, school, or any other setting. The therapy can be individualized, and sessions are designed as per your child’s requirements.

8. Music therapy

Music therapy is a clinical, proof-based therapy used to improve social and communication skills in children with autism or ASD. This therapy is based on using different musical activities (singing, songwriting, playing instruments, and listening to music) in the development of interactions with eye contact and social skills in children. The therapy is executed in stages, including assessing a child’s needs, setting goals based on the needs, designing individualized activities, and evaluating the results (14).

Since music is loved and motivating for children, it can help promote relaxation, learning, confidence, and provide a way of expression in a developmentally appropriate manner. If you want to consider this therapy for your child, make sure you contact a professional who has the required credentials and has done approved educational music therapy programs (15).

The therapies available for children with autism or ASD are vast but with little known success rates. However, several research studies have shown that a specific and personalized therapeutic approach designed with the help of a professional therapist has proven to be successful in many children. Although the therapists and professionals will guide your child through the therapy sessions, you as a parent have an important role in choosing the right kind of treatment plan for successful outcomes for your child.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Therapies for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK246982/
  2. How is Play Therapy Used to Treat Autism?
    https://www.appliedbehavioranalysisedu.org/how-is-play-therapy-used-to-treat-autism/
  3. Speech-Language Therapy for Autism.
    https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments/speech-language
  4. What is Speech Therapy?
    https://www.autismspeaks.org/speech-therapy-autism
  5. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
    https://www.autismspeaks.org/applied-behavior-analysis
  6. ABA Psychology and Autism.
    https://www.nu.edu/resources/aba-psychology-and-autism/
  7. Treatment and Intervention Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder.
    https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html
  8. Nila Sathe, et al; Nutritional and Dietary Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review.
    https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/139/6/e20170346.long
  9. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Diet.
    https://www.eatright.org/health/diseases-and-conditions/autism/nutrition-for-your-child-with-autism-spectrum-disorder-asd
  10. Kingkaew Pajareya, et al; (2012); A one-year prospective follow-up study of a DIR/Floortime parent training intervention for pre-school children with autistic spectrum disorders.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23140036/
  11. Floortime.
    https://www.autismspeaks.org/floortime-0
  12. Occupational Therapy (OT).
    https://www.autismspeaks.org/occupational-therapy-ot-0
  13. Ian Research Findings: Occupational Therapy For Autism.
    https://iancommunity.org/cs/ian_treatment_reports/occupational_therapy
  14. Music therapy.
    https://raisingchildren.net.au/autism/therapies-guide/music-therapy
  15. Music Therapy As a Treatment Modality for Autism Spectrum Disorders.
    http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/MT_Autism_2012.pdf

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Vidya Tadapatri

Vidya did her post-graduation in Biotechnology from Osmania University, Hyderabad. Her interest in scientific research and writing made her pursue a career in writing, in which she now has over four years of experience. She has done certified biotechnology-related training programs under renowned organizations such as Centre For Cellular & Molecular Biology and Department of Biotechnology. Vidya writes health-based articles... more