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Five Treatments for Children and Autism Parents Should Know About

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Supporting a child with ASD can be deeply rewarding but comes with its fair share of challenges. What makes it even more complex is the absence of a single known cure on the one end, and the vast array of available approaches, therapies, treatments, and interventions on the other.

While most autism therapies have their merits and can significantly improve a child’s life, there are five essential ones that every parent of a child with ASD should be aware of. In the article below, you can learn more about how they work, their benefits, their applicability, and any potential drawbacks or limitations.

Behavioral Treatments

Behavioral treatments, which focus on shaping behaviors and improving social and communication skills, are a cornerstone in autism intervention. Relying on techniques rooted in behavioral psychology, these treatments bring about positive changes in individuals on the autism spectrum.

Some of the most widespread and commonly accepted behavioral treatments in the autism community include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) – therapy that breaks down desired behaviors into smaller, manageable steps and encourages children with ASD to engage in them with positive reinforcement. There are around 100 ABA centers in the US, and some offer across cities and states. For example, you’ll find Abacus Therapies in Miami, Broward, Palm Beach (Florida), Atlanta (Georgia), and Charlotte (North Carolina).
  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) – approach that emphasizes the child’s interests and uses naturalistic teaching strategies to target pivotal behaviors, such as motivation and social initiations.

Behavioral treatments can lead to substantial improvements in communication, behavior, and social skills for many children on the autism spectrum. While their effectiveness has been proven in numerous studies, the success of behavioral therapies may vary from child to child.

Developmental Treatments

Focusing on improving specific developmental skills, developmental treatments are a valuable component of a more holistic approach to supporting children with autism. Depending on the child’s strengths and weaknesses, there is a variety of developmental treatments available, including:

  • Speech Therapy – intervention that concentrates on improving communication skills, like enhancing speech, language comprehension, and even non-verbal skills.
  • Occupational Therapy – intervention in which the child with ASD engages in activities to improve fine and gross motor skills, sensory processing, and daily living skills.

Tailored to the specific needs of the child with autism, developmental treatments are often integrated into their daily routines. They can have a profound impact on a child’s life – improve communication, social engagement, and daily functioning, but require an ongoing commitment. 

Social-Relational Treatments

Social-relational treatments concentrate on fostering overall development, including cognitive, emotional, and social growth for children on the spectrum. These interventions aim to improve social interactions and relationships, a key area of challenge for many children with autism.

There are multiple approaches to social-relational therapy that therapists can take, including:

  • Floortime (DIR/Floortime) – play-based approach where therapists and parents engage in child-like activities, follow the child’s lead in play, and gradually introduce more complex interactions.
  • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) – therapy that emphasizes building dynamic, reciprocal relationships, encourages the child to adapt to various social situations, and improves social cognition.

While less structured than behavioral therapy, social-relational treatments can significantly enhance the child’s overall quality of life. In addition to helping them navigate social interactions, it can also help them reduce anxiety and meltdowns related to social challenges.

Psychological Treatments

Although they are most commonly practiced for individuals with mental health issues, some psychological treatments can be viable as autism interventions. Focusing on the relationship between thoughts and behavior, psychological therapies can be helpful for children with ASD.

Many children with autism have improved their mental well-being with the following psychological treatments:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – approach that teaches coping strategies to children with autism and provides them with the tools to address emotional challenges like managing anxiety and emotional regulation.
  • Mindfulness-Based Interventions – techniques that can help children with ASD better understand and manage their emotions, as well as reduce stress and improve their self-awareness.

While they provide valuable tools for coping with the challenges of daily life, these treatments may not directly address core social and communication deficits, so they may be best suited for children with emotional difficulties in addition to their autism. 

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Complementary and alternative treatments encompass various non-conventional approaches that some families explore to support children with autism. These treatments are often used alongside traditional therapies to address specific challenges.

Some of the most commonly practiced alternative approaches to treating autism include:

  • Sensory Integration – therapy that relies on activities and exercises that engage the child’s senses to make them more comfortable with sensory experiences and ultimately help them process sensory information more effectively.
  • Dietary Interventionsspecial diets, such as gluten-free or casein-free diets that may eliminate certain proteins that some children with autism may be sensitive to.

While there is no abundant evidence that complementary and alternative therapies and interventions are effective for treating ASD, many parents report improvements in their children’s behavior and well-being after undergoing them.

Closing Thoughts

Supporting a child with autism presents distinct challenges, especially considering that each child with ASD has unique needs. This individuality complicates the decision-making process for parents and caregivers, making it even more daunting.

Therefore, it is vital to stay updated on the most recent advancements in treatments but also consult with qualified specialists. By combining expert guidance with personal research, parents can chart a path toward the best possible outcomes and maximize progress in their child’s development and well-being. 

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