How are therapies and interventions helpful?
All parents want to ensure that their children are being given the best chance to make progress.

Effective early intervention can help your child:

  • communicate with you and with other people
  • understand more about the world around them.

Effective intervention can also help you:

  • interact with your child better
  • understand and respond to your child’s behaviour.

Structure needs to be communicated to the child in a way they can understand. For example, visual cues and schedules are helpful because children with ASD are often better at understanding information that is presented visually, in the form of pictures or photographs.

What kind of intervention might help?
There are several teaching and therapeutic approaches which have been developed specifically for children with autistic spectrum disorders. Some were developed for all ages, and in all settings, while others are specifically for pre-school children in a home setting. The professionals working with you may use some of these approaches as part of the intervention programme being developed for your child at home or in a preschool or school setting.

Choosing an intervention method for your child
There’s a lot of debate about different types of intervention and therapies and some parents or professionals hold strong views about ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’.

Some families feel a particular therapy or intervention has really helped their child, so they are keen to recommend it. Other parents, who have not experienced such good results, feel families should be warned that there are no easy solutions or magic cures for autism. It’s important to remember that each child is different, and that what helps one child might not help another, and also that children can benefit from different interventions at different stages of their progress.

Before making decisions about a child’s treatment, parents should learn as much as possible about the different options that are available. Some of the questions parents can ask about programs for their children include:

  • How successful has the program been for other children with autism?
  • How many children have been placed in a regular school and how have they performed?
  • Do staff members have training and experience working with children and adolescents with autism?
  • How are activities planned and organized?
  • Are there regular daily schedules and routines?
  • How much individual attention will my child receive?
  • How is progress measured? Will my child’s behavior be closely observed and recorded?
  • Will my child be given tasks and rewards that are personally motivating?
  • Is the environment designed to minimize distractions?
  • Will the program prepare me to continue the therapy at home?
  • What is the cost, time commitment, and location of the program?

Some Options

Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA)
ABA is a scientific approach to understanding behaviour (especially learning) and using that understanding, to address a wide range of issues of social importance. In particular, it has proven to be an extremely effective method of working with children with autism and related disabilities.

If you watch a child with autism being taught according to the principles of ABA, you should see an intensive, interactive approach (often one-to-one) designed first to teach basic learning skills and then to encourage motivation to learn more advanced skills.

Any aspects of learning that the child finds hard are broken down into small, achievable steps, and are then presented in a simple and consistent way. This approach pays particular attention to building upon a child’s achievements and close monitoring of each child’s progress, underpinned by precise data collection and observation.

ABA does not replace conventional teaching or a conventional curriculum, but it can make it possible for a child with learning disabilities to access such a curriculum. ABA can be used in the home or in school, as the basis of targeted one-to-one therapy, or as a way of facilitating inclusion in mainstream. ABA practitioners work alongside many other professionals to help deliver a child-centred and individualised curriculum, in order to help the child to translate their learning into new situations and provide parents with the skills to respond to their child’s communication, social and behaviour needs.

Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped
Children (TEACCH)
The TEACCH programme is the most widely-used approach in the UK. It is designed to help children with autism be as independent as possible. It does this by providing children with strategies for coping and understanding their environment. The strategies help to make their world a less confusing and more predictable place. The TEACCH approach organises environments and learning situations to be consistent with what is known about how people with autism think and learn.
TEACCH is used to provide a wide range of services for toddlers, children and adolescents and their families. It’s used to support individual treatment programmes, special education and social skills training. Professionals who use TEACCH focus on the whole child and tend not to specialise in the way that speech and language therapists or psychologists do. Programmes are individual, identifying emerging skills and building on them. The TEACCH approach actively involves parents

Communication Support
Communication is a particular challenge for children with ASD and difficulty in this area leads to frustration. Helping children to understand and communicate can lead to improvements in behaviour.

Picture Symbols (including PECS)
Some children who have not developed speech, or those who already have a vocabulary, find picture symbols helpful. Symbols enable them to communicate more effectively – for example, they can learn to ask for things. Many people with an ASD find learning easier if it’s presented in a visual way and it’s for this reason that they’re encouraged to use symbols. For some, the use of PECS (the Picture Exchange Communication System) will be a precursor to learning spoken language.

The approach is based on the idea that greater understanding between adult and child can be achieved when spoken words are supported by the use of a symbol or icon. Symbols can be used to construct timetables to help explain to a child what is going to happen and when. They can also be used as prompts when skills like brushing your teeth are being taught in a step-by-step way. Picture symbols can be particularly helpful if a child can’t make the eye contact that is needed to use sign language. Picture symbols are often used combined with other interventions.

Signing
Signing can be used with other communication systems like PECS, and with other interventions. Makaton and Signalong are two examples of signing. Signing is not usually taught as a replacement for speech, but to assist in the development of spoken language and communication of intentions. Signing may be a more accessible and interactive communication tool for children who have difficulty discriminating between visual symbols presented to them in pictures, or for those who do not have the fine motor skills or motivation to manipulate picture cards.

Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy may combine a variety of strategies. These can help your child respond better to his or her environment. These OT strategies include:

  • Physical activities, such as stringing beads or doing puzzles, to help a child develop coordination and body awareness
  • Play activities to help with interaction and communication
  • Developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair
  • Adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions.