Top Autism Treatments and Learning Techniques
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Autism Therapy Techniques
Diagnoses of autism are on the rise. According to a CDC study in 2014, 1 in 59 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. 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 evidenced-based therapy and interventions that can help address the symptoms and needs of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
If you desire to work with children with autism spectrum disorder and their families, pursuing a degree in developmental psychology is the educational path you should pursue. Below is a list of the most effective and common evidenced-based interventions used to treat children and individuals with autism spectrum disorder and if you pursue a career path within this field, you could potentially specialize in one of these treatments and administer them yourself.
Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) Intervention
Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) therapy is considered an early intervention that has been found to be beneficial for social, verbal, and intellectual functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder. This form of therapy is growing in demand in demand. According to Lindgren and Doobay (2011), Applied Behavior Analytic (ABA) therapy has been defined as “the process of applying behavioral principles to change specific behaviors and simultaneously evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention” for the early treatment of autism spectrum disorder.
ABA works best before the child is five years old and 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 behavioral psychologist or behavior analyst.
ABA therapy is considered very intensive and is typically provided up to 15 to 40 hours per week. However, even ABA therapy directed at the parents for training them to help their child grow and thrive has been proven to be effective for a child with autism spectrum disorder (Lindgren & Doobay, 2011).
Social Skills Training
People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder can have significant social difficulties as they age and become older. Therefore, evidenced-based social skills training programs have been found to be an effective intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. For example, the UCLA PEERS® Clinic offers manualized and evidenced-based social skills training interventions for preschoolers, adolescents, and young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and provide extensive research publications demonstrating the effectiveness of these interventions.
Social skills training often focuses on helping individuals with social functioning such as positive peer interactions, how to make and maintain friendships, how to develop romantic relationships, etc. Often the child-related social skills training involves training parents to assist and support their children with positive and healthy social skills and interactions. Many of these social skills training programs are evidenced-based and provide trained and qualified clinicians and coaches to implement these interventions and would be an important factor to consider when selecting a program.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
Individuals with 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 disorders in youth with autism spectrum disorder, especially anxiety disorders (Storch et al., 2013; Wood et al., 2015).
Additional Treatment Options
There are many other treatment options that can completed alongside the evidenced-based treatments listed aboce. Here is a list of some additional treatment options available to accompany autism spectrum disorder interventions.
Medication: There are no current medications available to directly address the primary symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, which is social and language deficits. However, there are many types of medications used to treat other symptoms (i.e., ADHD, tic disorders, OCD, mood disorders, sleep difficulties, etc.) that are often seen in individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (Lindgren & Doobay, 2011). The most common medications used for treating children and adults with autism spectrum disorder are “antipsychotics” (e.g., risperidone), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat mood and repetitive behaviors, and stimulants and other medications used to treat attention deficits and hyperactivity (Lindgren & Doobay, 2011, p. 16).
Anti-psychotic drugs have been found to reduce autism spectrum disorder symptoms such as aggressiveness, stereotypic behaviors, and impulsivity, but should only be used cautiously and very minimally before 5 years of age (Bryson, Rogers, & Fombonne, 2003). Lastly, these types of medications are found to be most effective when combined alongside intensive therapy and not solely on their own (Frazier et al., 2010).
Sensory Integration/Occupational Therapy: According to the Interactive Autism Network, sensory-based therapies (i.e., sensory integration/occupational therapy) focus on correcting and improving how an individual with autism spectrum disorder physically responds to things in their environment. Research has found the use of sensory integration/occupation therapy helps improve sensory difficulties and daily functioning in children with autism spectrum disorder (Pfeiffer, Koenig, Kinnealey, Sheppard & Henderson, 2011; Schaaf, 2014;). As such, these types of therapies can be beneficial in the treatment of sensory issues related to 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 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 intensive therapy treatments.