TOP AUTISM LEARNING TECHNIQUES AND THERAPIES
Diagnoses of autism are on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that in 2018 approximately 1 in 59 children were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This is a 15% increase from 2004 figures.
The Autism Partnership Foundation has stated the disorder can be associated with “impaired language, play, cognitive, social, and adaptive functioning,” which can cause affected children to fall behind in their development compared with other children their age. There is a significant need for effective and evidence-based therapy and interventions that can help address the symptoms and needs of children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Autism Treatments and Techniques
If you wish to work with children with an autism spectrum disorder and their families, you might consider pursuing a degree in education, psychology, early childhood education, special education, clinical psychology, school psychology, speech language pathology, occupational therapy, or nursing.
However, regardless of your educational path, you will study a number of techniques and interventions that have been shown to be effective in treating individuals with ASD.
Below is a list of some of the more effective, evidenced-based interventions that you may encounter.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Intervention
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) uses principles of behavioral theory to help ASD individuals of all ages. The goal of ABA is to change specific behaviors that interfere with the development of important life skills.
ABA can help improve:
- Communication and language skills
- Social skills
- Motor skills
- Learning and academic skills
ABA interventions begin with assessment. Based on the evaluation, an ABA therapist develops a set of goals that are unique to each individual. Behavioral techniques, in particular positive reinforcement, are used to help the person achieve those goals.
Research has shown there are many benefits to early intervention for young children with autism. ABA helps address early developmental needs related to the child’s symptoms and behaviors. The therapy typically involves the child, family, and community resources such as well as the child’s school teachers. The treatment is primarily conducted by trained ABA therapists who are supervised by a qualified Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
Social Skills Training
Social skills deficits are part of the diagnostic criteria—individuals with ASD struggle with social skills across their lifespan. Some of these skills are basic, such as making eye contact, saying “please” or “thank you,” and asking questions. Others are more complex and deal with peer interactions, making and maintaining friendships, and romantic interactions.
There is no specific certification for social skills therapists at this time. Therapists may be trained in social work, psychology, occupational therapy, or other disciplines. However, individual researchers are beginning to develop curricula and techniques that social skills therapists can implement in their work.
Intervention programs are also being developed. For example, the UCLA PEERS® Clinic offers 16-week programs for preschoolers, young adults, and adolescents.
Often these child-related social skills training involves training parents to assist and support their children with positive and healthy social skills and interactions.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder often have emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression. Because cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most common and effective treatments for many types of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and depression, CBT is especially useful for those who have an autism spectrum disorder.
CBT addresses ways individuals can manage their thoughts and behaviors to improve their overall mood and emotional functioning. Research has found CBT to be effective in treating mood and anxiety disorders in youth with an autism spectrum disorder.
There are no current medications available to directly address the primary symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. However, there are many types of medications used to treat co-occurring conditions in individuals with ASD (e.g., ADHD, tic disorders, OCD, mood disorders, sleep difficulties, etc.). Some of the most common medications used for treating children and adults with an autism spectrum disorder are antipsychotics (e.g., risperidone), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat mood and anxiety, and stimulants and other medications used to treat attention deficits and hyperactivity.›
Anti-psychotic drugs have been found to reduce disruptive behavior in individuals with ASD including aggressiveness, stereotypic behaviors, and impulsivity. However, these medications should be used cautiously and very minimally before five years of age and with a qualified prescribing provider.
According to the Interactive Autism Network, sensory-based therapies (i.e., sensory integration/occupational therapy) focus on correcting and improving how an individual with an autism spectrum disorder physically responds to sensory stimuli in their environment. Research has found the use of occupation therapy helps improve sensory difficulties and daily functioning in children with an autism spectrum disorder. As such, these types of therapies can be beneficial in the treatment of sensory issues related to an autism spectrum disorder.
Speech and Language Therapy
The Autism Speaks foundation discusses how speech and language therapy is often included within intensive therapy interventions for autism to help address the common language deficits associated with an autism spectrum disorder, which range from not speaking at all to conversational speech. Speech therapy can be provided to individuals one-on-one or in a group setting. The treatment is often provided alongside social skills training or other therapy treatments.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) specifies that children with various disabilities, including autism, are entitled to early intervention services and special education. This intervention begins for children who are diagnosed at birth.
Birth to Three
The Birth to Three program, mandated by IDEA, provides services and support for families of children with autism. There are many programs available, some of them state-sponsored. Services provided include developmental screening, evaluation, assessment, and parent education.
Children who qualify for preschool special education can be placed in developmental preschools; these schools are paid for by their local school district. To determine the best placement, parents and teams of professionals develop an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) for the child. IEPs are custom documents that specify the educational goals and pathways of a child.
IEPS outline yearly goals, identify services needs to achieve the goals, and include methods for assessing progress. Services can include placement in a preschool.
Special Education in Schools
IEPs are also the starting point for students in kindergarten and above. Local school districts must provide special education services for all students who qualify. Programs vary, but the IDEA specifies that children with autism and other special needs be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. This means special needs children should be educated with peers without disabilities as much as possible.
Special education programs have dual goals: one is to address developmental needs, and the other is to provide a child with an education. The methods and goals are determined by a student’s IEP.