Research has found that early intervention for children with autism can have a profound impact on their outcomes.
Early intervention consists of treatments and therapies in which children participate after they have been diagnosed with autism. Since most diagnoses are made by the time a child is age 3, early intervention is not just early post-diagnosis, but early in the child’s life as well.
Social and communication skills are the focus of many early intervention techniques.
One early intervention is known as applied behavioral analysis. Based on B. F. Skinner’s work, applied behavioral analysis works much like positive reinforcement.
A verbal or physical stimulus (such as a request or command) is made of a child, and the child’s behavior results in the form of a response, or lack thereof.
The response, in turn, elicits a consequence, which can include positive reinforcement of the response, or no consequence for negative behavior. This intervention technique works to enhance a child’s communication and social interaction skills.
Pivotal response therapy is a therapy that is used to increase social, academic, and communication skills; the “pivotal” reference is core behaviors that affect a range of other behaviors.
The therapy is child-directed in that the child decides what activities may be part of the intervention. So, for instance, if a child attempts to communicate that he wants to swing on a swing, and then he’s rewarded with that activity.
The goal here is to improve the child’s communication as well as play and social skills.
Strengthening poor communication skills is a goal of autism intervention. Verbal behavior therapy works to help children verbalize their needs and desires.
So, for example, if a child learns to say “cup,” then he or she wants a drink from a cup. When the child is given the cup in response to the request, the word is reinforced. The child then learns to use words to obtain objects.
Floortime is a therapy that synthesizes several skills in a play-like setting.
Parents or the therapist shares activities with the child and gets down on the floor with him or her to meet the child where he or she is, both developmentally and in a literal, physical sense.
The focus here is not on speech, motor, or cognitive skills as discrete skills, but rather the confluence of these skills.
Floortime emphasizes emotional development as well. During floortime, engaging with the child and moving the child toward more complex interactions helps the child to communicate.
Early, appropriate intervention can significantly increase the social, emotional, and language skills of a child with autism. To read more about early intervention techniques, visit How Do I Get The Help My Child Needs?
Who does autism early intervention?
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are, of course, treated by their pediatricians and often by a pediatrician who specializes in children with ASD.
In addition to medical treatment, however, there are several complementary therapies provided by professionals whose areas of expertise are not in the field of pediatric medicine.
Treatment for autism is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and no two children with an autism diagnosis will have the same symptoms or respond to the same treatment.
Psychologists provide applied behavioral therapy, often in conjunction with other therapists often called “trainers.” They may also provide verbal therapy. Floortime-trained psychologists provide floortime therapy.
Special Education Teachers
Speech-language therapy (SLT) is provided by a speech-language pathologist who specializes in children with ASD. SLT works to overcome speech challenges in a child with ASD.
Treatment is tailored to the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Speech therapists may also be trained in Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT), a therapy designed to improve the child’s communication as well as play and social skills.
Certified Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapy (OT) is a therapy that is designed to promote independence in physical and motor skills. Provided by certified occupational therapists, OT necessarily encompasses cognitive skills as well and often includes therapies designed to enhance activities of daily living such as grooming and feeding skills.
Certified Occupational therapists may also provide Sensory Integration Therapy (SI) and Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT). SI is usually part of an OT program and helps to improve the brain’s organization and processing of sensory information. PRT focuses on communication and social skills.
Certified Physical Therapists
Physical Therapy (PT) is provided by Certified Physical Therapists. PT is a therapy that focuses on problems associated with movements, such as balance, coordination, and muscle tone. Physical therapists may also be part of Sensory Integration Therapy and Pivotal Response Therapy.
Parents’ Role in Therapy
Don’t underestimate the value of the parents’ role in providing therapy to their child. Parents can be trained to offer floortime therapy and to extend occupational, speech, physical, and other therapies in the home setting.
Your child will likely receive a combination of therapies depending on his or her needs and abilities. Read more about ASD therapies.