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Treatments for Autism
There are many kinds of treatments for children with autism, such as applied behavioral analysis, educational interventions, and medication.
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
ABA is a type of behavior program. It can be used in school, in a therapy setting, and at home. There are a number of different kinds of ABA programs. One is called discrete trial training (DTT). This is a structured method of teaching. It involves breaking a lesson down into steps, providing prompts so that the child does the task, and having consequences for the child’s performance. For example, if a task is done as instructed, then a reward is given.
Other types of ABA programs include pivotal response training (PRT). This approach focuses on what motivates the child to learn. If the child chooses to play with a certain toy, then that choice can be used to teach a skill. For example, learning colors. PRT also involves teaching the child in real ways. For example, you might teach a child how to tie a shoe. Then, the reward could be to play outside, instead of giving them candy.
Applied verbal behavior (VB) is another program. It involves helping the child gain verbal skills. The teacher breaks lessons down into small trials, gives prompts, and provides feedback to reinforce the desired behavior. The goal is to have the child use his or her verbal skills to communicate their needs.
In the school setting, there are other programs that may be used. The relationship-based developmental program is one example. This focuses on what developmental level the child is at, how the child is progressing emotionally, how the child responds to the environment, and what types of social relationships the child has.
A program called treatment and education of autistic and related communication-handicapped children (TEACCH) is also used in schools. In general, this involves a structured schedule. The schedule includes tasks that focus on certain skills. For example, verbal skills, social skills, and daily activities.
For children with communication difficulties, there are alternative communication systems that can be taught, such as:
- Picture exchange communication system—involves using pictures rather than words to communicate
- Sign language—involves using hand signals rather than speech to communicate
- Facilitated communication—involves helping a child to use a keyboard or another device to communicate
In addition, there are other methods that may help children with autism in the educational setting:
- Speech and language therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Social skills instruction—to help teach appropriate social interactions
- Sensory integration therapy—to help with organizing sensory information
- Developmental optometry—to help with vision problems that are related to learning
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Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml. Updated May 14, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 6, 2013. Accessed May 14, 2013.
Autism through the lifespan. The Autism Society website. Available at: http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/autism-through-the-lifespan. Accessed May 14, 2013.
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- Reviewer: Kari Kassir, MD
- Review Date: 03/2016
- Update Date: 03/15/2015