The Different Types of Therapies for Children with Autism

By sandra.caplesc…, 25 October, 2021
Teacher surrounded by students.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a severe developmental disability that affects many children nowadays. Every autistic child goes through different challenges, and, fortunately, there are many types of therapies that support successful growth and fulfilling lives. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so each intervention and treatment plan should be tailored to address your child’s specific needs.

Currently, there is no cure for autism spectrum disorder. Interventions may reduce symptoms, improve daily living skills, and maximize the ability of a child to live a healthy life. It’s never too late to start treatment, but starting therapy early certainly helps your kid. Even if you suspect your child has autism before a confirmed diagnosis, you can research therapies if you suspect he has it.

READ: Does Autism Get Worse with Age? 

This article will help you understand what autism is and the different treatment plans used in easing autism symptoms.

What Is Autism?

Autism describes a group of neurodevelopmental disorders causing significant social, communication, and behavioral problems. It’s often called a “wide-spectrum disorder” because symptoms and challenges differ for each child. This disorder affects the way a child behaves, socializes, or interacts with other people. According to the CDC, autism is more often found in boys than in girls, but it affects anyone, regardless of race and social class. Even now, researchers don’t know what causes ASD in so many children.

Signs & Symptoms of ASD

Kids with autism spectrum disorder demonstrate restricted and repetitive behaviors or interests. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, but they can change over time. Some people share the same symptoms, but there are major differences in the number of symptoms. Two children with ASD are never alike, which makes it challenging to find the best therapies.

Behavioral signs appear in early development, and many children show symptoms by 12 to 18 months. Some examples of the types of behaviors exhibited in people with ASD are:

  • Making little eye contact with people
  • Tending to not listen to people
  • Failing to respond to someone calling their name
  • Sharing no enjoyment of objects or activities
  • Having trouble understanding emotions, social cues, or predicting other people’s actions

Regarding repetitive behaviors, these can include repeating unusual phrases, having overly focused interests (numbers, facts), or being sensitive to sensory input such as light, noise, textures, or temperature. Many people with ASD also experience sleep problems and irritability. However, children on the autism spectrum can have strengths, such as excelling in math, music, or art, retaining information for long periods, and being strong visual and auditory learners.

Types of Treatment for Autism Spectrum

Treatment serves to improve social functioning, learning, and quality of life for children and adults. Some people need little to no treatment, while others require intensive therapy. There are many treatments available, from behavior analysis to sensory integration therapy.

Usually, therapy can be categorized into:

  • Behavioral therapies
  • Educational therapies
  • Family therapies
  • Dietary approaches
  • Medication

Each intervention is tailored to the child’s needs and can include a combination of treatments. It would be best to work closely with your doctor to determine the right plan since your child’s needs may change with time. You need to know that researchers do not have enough information on whether one type of treatment works better than the other. This does not mean a program won’t be helpful, but scientists can’t say with confidence that it will work.

In the following paragraphs, we will take a look at the most common therapies for autism.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA is the most popular approach to treating autism spectrum disorder and is widely accepted by healthcare professionals. It’s been used in many schools and treatment clinics for more than 50 years. ABA is based on the science of learning and behavior. As a result, it encourages positive reinforcement using rewards while discouraging negative behaviors. It’s usually a starting point for children with severe symptoms and involves a structured approach to play, communication, and self-care through repetition. Parents and caregivers receive training to give constant feedback for long-term results.

Here are some examples of ABA types:

Discrete Trial Training (DTT). This type of ABA focuses on step-by-step training to receive the desired response. Lessons are broken down into simple parts. Positive reinforcement is always provided to reward the correct behaviors while ignoring mistakes.

Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI). It’s perfect for very young children, often under five. This one-on-one approach with a therapist uses a highly structured teaching approach to reduce tantrums, aggression, and self-injury while building positive behavior.

Pivotal Response Training (PRT). This strategy aims to increase a child’s motivation to learn and initiate communication with others. The focus of PRT is on important areas of a kid’s development, like self-management and taking the lead in social situations.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

OT focuses on teaching children the fundamental skills they need in their everyday life to participate in different activities. This includes fine motor, handwriting, and self-care skills achieved through cooking, dressing, cleaning, or handling money. As a result, children with autism spectrum become more independent and can live a healthy life. Moreover, OT specialists can help the child manage their sensory issues.

Depending on the child’s needs, OT can focus on anything related to school or play. The evaluation also considers obstacles that may prevent your child from participating in daily activities, such as feeding issues or using the bathroom.

Speech Therapy

Speech-language therapy focuses on teaching verbal, nonverbal, social, or language skills for better communication. The goal is for the child to communicate in functional ways, and it consists of one-on-one therapy with a speech-language pathologist. Speech challenges vary from child to child. Some cannot speak, while others love to talk, even if they have difficulty understanding body language or facial expressions.

This type of therapy improves the rate and rhythm of a child’s speech and teaches them how to use words correctly. In addition, it helps them communicate their feelings and thoughts better. The therapist can use gestures or pictures to make it more realistic.

Some examples of activities in speech-language therapy include:

  • Strengthening mouth, jaw, and neck muscles
  • Understanding body language
  • Responding to questions
  • Matching emotions with the correct facial expression
  • Making speech clear sounds

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT deals with the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. During these sessions, children learn to identify the triggers of negative thoughts. Furthermore, studies show that CBT therapy is beneficial for children with severe anxiety symptoms. This type of therapy has been around since the 1960s. Its goal is for the autistic child to identify what leads to problematic feelings during a particular social situation.

It’s usually recommended for children with mild autism symptoms. CBT aims to help the child recognize the triggers themselves and apply a different, more positive approach instead during stressful situations. It also focuses on developing skills a child already has and working on their weaknesses in subtler ways.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology helps children improve and preserve functional abilities to overcome everyday challenges. This field includes any tool, equipment, or software program that allows the child to work, play, and live a normal life. Through devices such as electronic tablets, children with autism spectrum can communicate and interact with others. Although this form of therapy is still tested, the outcomes are encouraging. Many children increased their independence, improved verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and grew empathy.

One example of useful assistive technology is Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). It uses pictures to teach communication skills and helps a child learn how to trade pictures for items and activities. This system is designed for children who can’t speak or can’t understand certain activities.

Social Skills Training (SST)

Interacting with others is difficult for a child with ASD, leading to many challenges in time. SST teaches children to interact with other peers, from conversation to problem-solving skills. It is done through the repetition and reinforcement of certain desired behaviors. For example, SST therapy helps children improve social skills like understanding humor, being a team player, and reading emotional cues.

One-on-one sessions include learning through role-playing and practice. It’s generally used with children, but it’s also an effective therapy for teenagers and young adults.


Floortime is based on relationship therapy. It’s called this way because parents get down on the floor with the child to play and interact. This form of treatment is an alternative to ABA, and the goal is to help children expand their social circle. The therapist builds on the child’s strengths and helps them develop.

In the session, the therapist and parents engage in activities the child enjoys. As a result, it will motivate the child to interact with others while working on new skills. Moreover, floortime concentrates on how the kid deals with sights, sounds, and smells.


Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children uses visual cues to teach the necessary skills. It’s a clinical training program that uses a structured method called “Structured TEACCHing.” Based on the unique needs of children with ASD, such as difficulties in communication and the strength of visual processing information, it’s the perfect tool for classrooms, and teachers can greatly benefit from it. As a result, children will receive the desired educational goals.

Sensory Integration Therapy

This type of therapy aims to help kids that have sensory processing disorders. Some people with autism are affected by external sensory inputs like sight or sound, making it hard to learn positive behaviors. It exposes them to sensory stimulation in a structured and repetitive way. It’s important to know that there is not much research regarding the effectiveness of this therapy.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

RDI is a family-centered form of therapy, focusing on emotional and social objectives. In the end, the child should establish meaningful relationships and form strong emotional bonds. When your child feels more comfortable, he will be able to share his experiences with you. RDI grows empathy and motivates the child to engage with others. Some objective examples include building eye contact (and maintaining it) or engaging in back-and-forth dialogue.

Play Therapy

Some children cannot process their own emotions or articulate their feelings to their parents. This type of therapy comes into play to serve as a solution to the issue. It may look like regular playtime, but it’s more than that. A trained therapist observes the child and helps them explore emotions. Play therapy also helps them deal with unresolved trauma by learning coping mechanisms. As a result, the child will redirect inappropriate behaviors and turn them into positive outcomes.

The benefits of play therapy include:

  • Developing fine and gross motor skills
  • Alleviation of anxiety
  • Gaining respect for others
  • Taking responsibility for their behavior

Here are some toys you can try: 

Dietary Approaches

No evidence supports the fact that special diets are an effective treatment. But some children with autism spectrum disorder don’t get the nutrition they need for healthy development. Many avoid eating food because they associate it with stomach pain, while others don’t like how the food feels in their mouth. However, there is little proof that a diet helps alleviate autism symptoms.

READ MORE: How to Address Food Aversions in Autism

It’s essential to speak with a specialist to design the appropriate meal plan, like a gluten-free diet. Dietary treatments are based on the idea that food allergies cause symptoms of ASD. Good nutrition is important, so include the necessary vitamins and minerals to increase the overall quality of life.


There is no cure for autism, and medication won’t treat autism. However, medication is used for specific symptoms and conditions, especially certain behaviors. Healthcare providers use medicine to deal with self-injury and aggression, allowing the autistic child to focus on other necessary things. Be careful of the medications that are not approved by the food and drug administration.

Medication is often used alongside behavioral therapies. Antipsychotic drugs, for example, treat irritability in children, while antidepressants help with anxiety. However, medicines of any kind carry risks, so ensure the safety of the medication by speaking with your doctor first.

Making a Decision

As you can see, many different therapies cater to your autistic child’s needs. There are also many other alternative autism treatments, like using weighted blankets, therapy through music, or taking melatonin for a deeper sleep. Speak with your child’s therapist to determine the best type of treatment. It’s critical to get your research done before choosing the correct course of action for your most precious.