Thursday, July 1, 2021

Science-Based Interventions for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Image by alteredego from Pixabay.  

Having a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder is overwhelming.  The good news is that there are now more treatment options than ever before.  The challenging part is figuring out which interventions fit your child’s needs and your philosophical approach to parenting a child with a disability.  There are probably thousands of treatments available at this point, and, unfortunately, many of them can’t substantiate their claims of effectiveness with evidence.  Here are some of the more common approaches that stand up to scientific scrutiny.  (Note that this is not a comprehensive list.)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

This approach has been embraced by many schools, healthcare professionals, and clinics.  It involves close observation of behavior with the aim of encouraging positive behaviors and discouraging those seen as negative.  Pediatric ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to reward behavior that parents, teachers, and clinicians want to see more of.  Behaviors deemed undesirable are not rewarded.  

ABA is broken down into many subcategories, or types of therapies with specific aims and methods, including:

  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) for kids younger than five or even younger than three.  

  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) for kids between 12-48 months.  

  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT), which breaks skills and behaviors down into their smallest steps to teach them.  

  • Verbal Behavior Intervention (VBI), which focuses on verbal skills.  

  • And Pivotal Response Training (PRT), which focuses on the child’s motivation to learn, initiate communication, and monitor themselves.  

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy is used in a variety of circumstances, including to treat people with ASD.  It focuses on furthering the ability of children and adults to live as independently as possible by helping them master skills ranging from social communication to feeding themselves.  It is often provided free as part of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at school or as part of an Early Intervention program for kids younger than three.  OT is a science-based set of practices with targeted interventions proven to work.  

Speech Therapy

As the name suggests, speech therapy helps children and adults to speak more clearly.  But it goes beyond that, too.  Learning appropriate conversational skills such as reading body language and facial expressions and taking turns, and learning to use alternative forms of communication like Sign, pictures, or technology in place of verbal speech also fall under the umbrella of speech therapy.  Some Speech-Language Pathologists are even trained to help clients who have difficulty chewing and swallowing.  Like Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy can be provided at no cost if it is part of an IEP at school, or if it is provided through an Early Intervention Program.  

There is an absolute thicket of evidence-based programs, interventions, and strategies out there to help your child with ASD.  These three are a good starting point, and many others will be types of one of these three more umbrella treatments.  But there are also a lot of treatments that either haven’t yet been well studied, or have failed to show that they really can help with ASD symptoms.  These three treatment strategies are a good place to start, but it is always a good idea to make sure that your child’s treatment stands up to science, or, at the very least, has been shown to do no harm. 

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