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The Best Therapies for Autism

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Cost, location, availability, and suitability are just a few factors that affect who and what type of therapy works for a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

We are often asked at Heartlinks what’s the best autism therapies. The answer is never straightforward. 

Our experience tells us that children with autism get the most benefit from a therapy that is intense, starts promptly after a diagnosis, positively engages the child, has distinct goals, and is based on extensive research.

Thanks to an increased awareness of autism and an understanding of how intervention can help, many different types of therapy are now available to them.

What are the Best Therapies for Autism?

The recommended therapy for your autistic child may vary from another’s, and that’s not cause for concern. 

Often, a young person’s age, range of abilities, specific needs, and personality will dictate the type of therapy suggested.

Many therapies listed below overlap regarding the subjects they address or skills they teach children on the spectrum. That’s okay. 

One child might learn about personal hygiene more effectively through occupational rather than ABA. The crucial element is that both children have a form of therapy that meets their needs and is available to them. 

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Child having fun at ABA therapy

Considered the pinnacle of autism therapy, applied behavior analysis is the most widely used treatment of them all. Its popularity lies in the fact that it can be personalized to suit the unique needs of each child. 

Some of the most common objectives of ABA therapy include the following:

  • Learning about sharing behaviors when playing with others
  • Understanding the importance of self-care and personal hygiene
  • Reducing unwanted behaviors
  • Increasing social skills
  • Ameliorating language and communication skills.

Occupational Therapy

One of the best therapies for autism is occupational therapy (OT). Administered by a licensed occupational therapist, this treatment focuses on learning strategies, play skills, sensory issues, and self-care. 

An occupational therapist will begin with a thorough evaluation of their young client’s ability level and how they do the following:

  • Plays
  • Learns
  • Interact with their surroundings
  • Care for themselves

With the evaluation complete, the occupational therapist will identify goals and the necessary steps to reach them. Some of these objectives might include one or more of the following:

  • Using the bathroom independently
  • Eating
  • Getting dressed by oneself
  • Fine motor skills such as coloring, using scissors, and writing
  • Self-grooming (i.e. brushing teeth and hair, applying deodorant).

Occupational therapy aims to improve the child’s regular skills, which are part of their daily activities, to become more independent and live fuller lives.

Social Skills Therapy

Most neurotypical children learn social skills through experiences and observation. They understand what works and what doesn’t through trial and error.

Children with autism do not learn their social skills in the same way. It is challenging for them to feel empathy and imagine what someone else might feel like. 

This is why structured social skills training is necessary for autistic children. Whether administered by a therapist, social worker, or behavior analyst, this therapy teaches autistic children the skills to support their interactions with others.

Though the goals of social skills therapy will vary depending on the needs and abilities of the child, some of the areas that could be addressed include

  • Sharing and taking turns
  • Asking for help from a stranger
  • Appropriately expressing feelings
  • Understanding someone else’s point of view
  • Attending a social activity
  • Sharing personal information in an acceptable way
  • Saying “no” in different situations
  • Learning to work with others (i.e. teamwork or group project)

Play Therapy

The goal of play therapy for autistic children is to engage them in fun activities that interest them and are of their choosing. 

This therapy is designed for those kids on the spectrum who typically play in repetitive patterns or alone, where there isn’t much chance for them to explore and learn.

Often, autistic children cannot “pretend play” with a doll like a neurotypical child would. They are completely self-absorbed in their activities. Play therapy can show them how pretend play is a beautiful opportunity for shared interaction. 

There are many different types of play therapy, such as Floortime therapy. Floortime is a play therapy technique designed to help an autistic child develop social and communication skills and relationships with others.

Equestrian Therapy

Special needs child having fun during horse therapy

Equestrian therapy has several names, including therapeutic horseback riding and hippotherapy. This is one of the best autism therapies available for children on the spectrum. 

Working with an animal can help an autistic child’s confidence, improve social skills, and build physical strength. It can also help by reducing a child’s hyperactivity and irritability.

Typically, children ride the horses in a non-threatening and safe environment during an equestrian therapy session. 

The therapist who conducts the session is certified in equestrian therapy. Children are taught not only to ride the horses but also how to care for them. 

Music Therapy

Several different types of music therapy fall under the autism therapy services umbrella. Music therapy was first used in the United States in the early to mid-1900s. It is used to develop the communication and social interaction skills of autistic children.

Whether it’s singing, playing an instrument, listening to music, or songwriting, there are several ways of engaging autistic children. Whatever the child chooses, involving them in music promotes skills such as direct eye contact, taking turns, and attention sharing. 

Typically, a registered music therapist practices music therapy with an autistic child. Generally, a session will last between 20-50 minutes and will occur once a week. The length and intensity of this autism spectrum therapy can vary depending on the child’s needs.

Speech Therapy 

Speech therapy for autism can treat a variety of language and speech challenges an autistic child might encounter. Whether they’re non-verbal, have delayed speech, or are high-functioning and unable to recognize sarcasm or jokes, the speech therapist can help. 

What is critical with speech therapy is that it’s best to get help when the child is young. The earlier a diagnosis, the better a speech-language therapist can help their young client overcome challenges. 

What Is The Most Effective Therapy for Autism?

Of all the autism spectrum therapies available today, ABA is widely regarded as the most comprehensive and effective. 

Yet many of our parents at Heartlinks ask us why ABA therapy is so widely used.

First, let’s take a look at the numbers. 

Dr. Ivar Lovaas, the grandfather of ABA therapy, proved through his work in 1987 that 90% of children he studied made tremendous improvements when using applied behavior analysis.

Additionally, Dr. Lovaas concluded that 47% of the children in his study had become “indistinguishable” from their peers after receiving intensive ABA therapy.

One of the most appealing principles of ABA therapy is that a clinician must develop an individualized program created uniquely for their client. No two programs are the same.

This program must incorporate various behavioral strategies agreed upon by the child’s support network (i.e., parents, doctors, therapists, and educators).

The program should break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. 

The therapist uses positive reinforcement to help the autistic child fully grasp the skill, and as they work together, data and information are collected to monitor their progress. 

Unlike other therapies, ABA has substantially more scientific research proving its benefits in treating autism. 

Find The Best Autism Therapy at Heartlinks

When a parent asks, “What are the best therapies for autism?” For us, the answer is simple: ABA therapy. 

Whether your child needs help with aggressive behavior, has a sensory processing disorder, or self-harms, ABA therapy can help.

Yet, ABA therapy can be combined with other therapeutic approaches such as speech, equestrian, or music therapy. It doesn’t have to be a stand-alone treatment. It is versatile. 
For more information about how Heartlinks ABA therapy can help your child, contact us here.

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