What Kinds of Therapy Help People with Autism?

No two people with autism spectrum disorder experience or express their condition in the same way. Some individuals have more difficulty with verbal communication, while others struggle with understanding the emotions of others.

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Some need rigid structure and constant encouragement in order to learn, while others benefit from practicing basic stress-coping techniques.

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Because of the wide range of behaviors and obstacles associated with different degrees of autism, finding the right kinds of treatment for each individual is essential. There are many approaches to autism therapy, so it’s important to consult with a medical professional to determine which might be most beneficial for your loved one. To help understand how beneficial therapy can be, below are explanations for four common approaches you may encounter.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy is one of the longest-running and most heavily researched forms of autism treatment. For 50 years, ABA therapy has helped people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and has been shown to be particularly useful for children with severe symptoms who are just beginning treatment.

ABA therapy tailors itself to the specific needs and problem areas of each individual child, using a system of repetition and rewards to teach patients new skills, which are often broken down into smaller, easily manageable tasks.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

While ABA therapy is generally used to treat patients with severe symptoms, Cognitive Behavior therapy (CBT) is often recommended for individuals with milder forms of autism.

The main goal of CBT is to identify what kinds of stimuli are most likely to “trigger” particular behaviors or feelings so that patients are better equipped to recognize, avoid, and compensate for them during everyday life. Typically, this involves frequent practice and low-level exposure to those same triggers.

Picture Exchange Communication System

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Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) therapy is designed with a primary focus on nonverbal patients, i.e. patients who have particular difficulty communicating through speech and/or understanding others.

Most effective for autistic individuals who have established interests (such as preferred activities, objects, or foods), PECS involves teaching patients to use images on cards to make requests, then building on that to create a vocabulary of more complex sentence formulation.

Relationship Development Intervention

Similar to how PECS therapy emphasizes improving communication, Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) therapy emphasizes fostering meaningful, emotional relationships between people with autism and their family members.

Helpful for children who have difficulty socializing and/or empathizing with others, RDI therapy involves training parents and other family members to deconstruct interpersonal engagement into individual behaviors that can be improved upon, such as making and holding eye contact.

 

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