How to Choose Autism Treatment
By Lauren Pasqua, Psy.D.
What Type of Treatment?
One important type of treatment will probably be speech and language therapy. Speech therapy can be important help children learn to communicate through gestures, sounds, and perhaps spoken language. Speech therapists can also determine if assistive or augmentative therapy or devices might help your child communicate. This might be as simple as a button they push to request, or as complex as a computer that speaks for them when they type. Speech therapy for children under three is usually provided by an early intervention program that is publicly funded. Once a child turns three, the school system usually provides therapy. You may also decide to use your private health insurance to get services.
Psychologists may provide behavioral interventions such as applied behavior analysis or incidental teaching to help your child learn new skills. Other interventions could be developed for social skills, relationship building, developmental problems like feeding, or severe behavioral problems (e.g. aggression). Psychologists can also help families process feelings and change home routines or structure to help your child. If your child also has anxiety or depression, a psychologist may help by using play-based or cognitive-behavioral therapies.
Sensory integration with an occupational therapist, social skills groups, nutrition services, medications for specific symptoms, art or music therapy, massage, or animal assisted therapy are other potentially useful interventions to help your child.
How Do I Choose?
There are many quality autism treatment programs that have been evaluated to be helpful. These treatments may be provided by occupational therapists, teachers, counselors, psychologists, or other therapists. When looking for a treatment approach the most important things to look for are programs that have a focus on developing communication, can be individualized to your child, and consider all the areas your child is struggling in and has strengths in. Intervention is recommended to be 20-30 hours a week for most success. Children usually have a combination of structured treatments and more help from you as the parent. It is important that professionals teach you how to help your child, because you are with him most and will have the biggest impact on his development. Children learn from daily experiences as much, or more, than structured treatment settings, so a combination of both may be good to consider.
Questions to Consider:
- How successful has this treatment been for other children?
- Does this provider have experience working with children and adolescents with autism?
- How are activities planned?
- Are there predictable routines?
- How much individual attention will my child get?
- How is progress determined?
- Will there be activities and rewards that motivate my child?
- Will the autism treatment program prepare me to continue the therapy at home?
- What is the cost and time commitment?
It’s important to remember that not every autism treatment works for every child and not every treatment is right for every family. Consider what you know about your child, how your family works, and what feels comfortable to you as you decide. Access to services, location, and cost are all real factors that are important to think about. Just because something worked for the neighbor down the street DOES NOT mean it is right for your child or that you are not a good parent if you don’t provide the same intervention .
A therapy plan should be unique to your child and may need to change as she grows and learns. Your child has great potential and with your help, will have a wonderful life with you by his side.