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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Moving Forward

Erin Thomas

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 path.

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 them.

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. [PubMed].

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].