Moving Forward

By: Erin Thomas

Just tell me what I
have to do to help my child and I will do it.
–the heart- cry of every
parent who hears that daunting autism diagnosis.

The bad news: It can sometimes be a grueling process to find
what works.

The good news: There are a multitude of resources available
today, that were not available just over a decade ago, to help you find your

The therapies for Autism Spectrum Disorders are plentiful
and varied. It is crucial that parents work to craft a personalized therapy for
their child. While the process of trial and error can certainly be disheartening,
it is often the case that what is therapeutic for one child, for example pet
therapy, may be too stimulating or ineffective for another child on the Spectrum.
There is no elixir for ASDs, and that can be frustrating for parents who simply
want their child to live to his or her full potential. It is important to
remember that each small step of improvement along the way is integral for the
journey and should be celebrated.

Generally, there are two models of early intervention
behavioral treatments. One model is the Lovaas Model using Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is widely used today as an
early intervention method to improve cognitive skills, language, and behavior.
As of yet, it is the therapy with the most scientific support (Geschwind,
2009). ABA aims to cultivate basic skills such as looking, listening, and
imitating as well as language skills, sociability, motor development, and
academic skills (Autism Speaks, 2013). It has also been shown to improve skills
in teens and adults with autism, and is useful for those trying to live more
independent lives or find employment. However, the use of ABA has been less
studied in teens and adults than in children.

The other model of early intervention therapy is the Early Start Denver Model for children
ages 12 months to 4 years. This approach incorporates the principles of the ABA
method but is more relationship-centered. Parents play an integral role in the
execution of this model, and it is play-based to increase social and
communicative skills.

Here a few more early intervention behavioral therapies that
some parents have found effective:

  • Floortime,
    in which the parents engage their child for 20 to 30 minute sessions of
    playtime on the floor. Parents implement activities based on their child’s
    interests, and they are in effect meeting the child at his or her “level”.
    Parents allow their child to take the lead but challenge them to interact more
    or use language. For example, if a child is playing with a doll, a parent may
    use another doll to imitate what the child is doing and then add language to
    the game. Systematic studies regarding the efficacy of this approach have been
    very limited, but case studies have reported improvement in communication
    skills (Martinex-Pedraza, 2009).
  • Pivotal
    Response Treatment (PRT)
    shares the core principles of ABA and the Early
    Start Denver Model, but it focuses on pivotal areas that may affect broad
    functioning. For example, PRT uses certain behavioral methods to target the
    “pivotal area” of motivation and fosters social motivation by using rewards
    (Steiner, 2013).
  • Verbal
    Behavior Therapy
    is a method that aims to teach individuals with ASDs how
    to communicate effectively using language. Instead of regarding words as mere
    labels for objects, it trains people to think of language as a means to obtain
    things they want or to relay ideas (Autism Speaks, 2013). For example, it
    conditions children to realize that if they say ice cream then their parent or therapist will produce ice cream for

This is just a sampling of the multitude of treatments
available for individuals with ASDs, and the focus here was on early
intervention methods. In some cases medication may be used to treat certain
auxiliary symptoms of autism, such as high energy levels, inability to focus,
tantrums, and depression (CDC, 2013). Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter
approach that guarantees results in all individuals with ASDs. However, there
is an abundance of resources and information relating to autism treatment
available, and this blog hopes to keep you informed about the various options.

The next post will take a more in depth look into one of the
popular treatment options, Applied Behavior Therapy. Stay tuned!


Autism Speaks. 2013. How is
autism treated? Retrieved from

Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention. 2013. Treatment. Retrieved from

Geschwind. Advances in
Autism. Annu Rev
Med. 2009; 60: 367–380.

Martinez-Pedraza. Autism spectrum
disorders in young children. Child
Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2009 July; 18(3): 645–663. [PubMed].

Steiner, A et al.
Pivotal response treatment for infants at risk for autism spectrum disorders: A
pilot study. J Autism Dev Disord. 2013
January; 43(1): 91–102. [PubMed].

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