Therapies to help children with autism are aimed specifically at improving the quality of life and functional independence of individuals. There needs to be a distinction made between treatment and therapy.
Treatment may be offered by Neurologists or Gastroenterologists for the care of some of the biological conditions that can emerge in children with autism. Therapies help to improve behavioural limitations that arise because of the condition. This might be with a speech and language therapist or with an occupational therapist. The aim will be to improve the independence of the child, so they are able to function in society.
Most families opt for one intensive programme of therapy, which incorporates the work of the speech and language and the occupational therapists. It is recommended in pre-school that this includes 25 hours of intervention and can be quite intensive for the child. The goals set may be behavioural or they may be educational, depending on the extent of the autism. If developmental stages are being delayed or missed, this may indicate the need for more behavioural targets. However, it may be that only a focus on learning is required.
Applied Behavioural Analysis
One of the most traditional forms of therapy for autism is Applied Behavioural Analysis. This is used to teach communication, play, social cues, self-care and living skills. It may also be used to support academic study. These therapies use Skinner’s behavioural theories. This basically means that the children are conditioned into knowing how to behave through positive reward for the right behaviour. This presumes that emotions are absent or limited and the child must intellectually learn how to interact with others. This basically follows a model of pre-teaching, followed by over learning and then a consequence for the right or wrong application of the learning. ABA approaches all aspects of learning together.
Discrete Trial Teaching
An alternative therapy is call DTT. Discrete Trial Teaching deals with each skill one by one, repeating the trials of behaviour over and over again. This still works to teach through intellectualisation of behaviour but by taking each skill discretely the reinforcement is thought to be more powerful. This also allows the therapist to make the programme more individual to the child.
Pivotal Response Treatment
Pivotal Response Treatment is another possible therapy. This is more commonly used to develop language skills for those who have trouble with verbal communication. The aim is to decrease disruptive behaviours that prevent communication. Therefore, there is a focus on play skills, social behaviour and self-monitoring strategies. This is an established curriculum that seeks to take children through a series of strategies and provide direct and natural reinforcement of the appropriate behaviour.
The therapy that is most suited to your child will likely depend on the behaviours associated with their individual ASD. However, knowing there are these options gives you the opportunity to ask experts for the options available for you and your child.
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