What types of therapy will help a child with autism?
After an autism diagnosis, most parents struggle reimagining what their child’s future will look like. While autism is not a disease or illness, children on the spectrum often need additional support to thrive at home, at school, and eventually in the workplace. Fortunately, there are therapies that can help your child grow, learn, and develop new skills.
No parent should have to figure out the next steps alone. When choosing the right type of therapy for your child, you also choose the team of people that become “your people,” your extended family. We believe that the team you choose should care as deeply about your child as you do.
The earlier that therapy begins, the sooner your child can learn new skills as their brain continues to grow. Here are three types of therapies that you might consider for your child.
While doing your research on different therapies, you may have come across ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA sits at the intersection of learning and behavior. An ABA therapist will look at your child’s behaviors and how these behaviors change with their environment. ABA is designed to encourage and reward helpful behaviors that improve learning and communication.
For example, if a child continually throws tantrums when asked to brush their teeth, their therapist might teach the child words or gestures to clearly communicate their feelings and frustrations. When the child uses these new skills, the therapist rewards the child with encouragement and praise.
ABA therapy can take place in a variety of settings, including your home or in a center. Home-based therapy can be particularly effective because children learn best in familiar, comfortable, and safe environments. So, a child’s home can be one of the most helpful places for them to learn new skills and grow.
When a therapy team leader puts together an ABA care plan, it will be personalized for your child's unique strengths, interests, and learning style. For younger children, this treatment plan usually recommends 20-40 hours of weekly therapy for at least 6 months. While this may seem daunting at first, research shows that comprehensive therapy can dramatically improve communication skills, focus and memory, and decrease challenging behaviors.
In addition to ABA therapy, speech therapy may benefit your child. Speech therapy can help children with autism communicate more effectively, both verbally and non-verbally. While some people with autism can’t communicate verbally, others love to talk but aren’t able to understand body language or facial expressions. Speech therapy can help children name feelings and emotions, improve their rate and speech rhythm, and speak more clearly. Non-verbal speech therapy can help a child communicate using hand gestures or even apps to produce complete words or sentences.
Families may also rely on Occupational Therapy (OT) at the same time as ABA and speech therapy. OT can help children with autism become more independent in their day-to-day activities. An occupational therapist can help your child improve their cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills. Some day-to-day skills they may work on include dressing, eating, or using the bathroom.
What can you do at home to help your child?
As a parent, you want your child to continue to thrive and grow and create a supportive and safe home environment. Here are some ways to help your child at home.
#1) Find yourself a support system
Having a support system is essential to your family and child’s well-being. Talking to other parents that have been through the same experiences and challenges can be extremely helpful.
In the San Francisco area, the Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area (SFASA) provides resources to support groups in the area. For other areas, including Chicago, the Aspergers/Autism Network provides support groups for teens and their caregivers.
Sometimes, siblings may also benefit from a support group. After a diagnosis, your other children may feel overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, or sad. This could be because they aren’t sure how to relate to their sibling or adjust to the lifestyle changes an autism diagnosis can require. A support group can help siblings process feelings by meeting other people that have walked on the same path.
#2) Help structure your child’s day
With a predictable routine and consistent environment, your child can feel safe and thrive. You may have already noticed that changes in a day can be difficult for your child or lead to them feeling overwhelmed and upset. This can be especially challenging because many children with autism cannot verbally express how they feel, and end up communicating with tears or tantrums.
One way to help your child is to establish predictable routines and structures that they can rely on. This may mean avoiding major changes to your child’s environment or ensuring that both you and your ABA therapy team communicate in the same way. For example, if your child is using an app to communicate with their therapist, you might use the same tool to create consistency at home.
#3) Set up a schedule
Sticking to a regular schedule can also help make your child’s day more manageable. Many parents use charts or colored calendars at home to clearly communicate the schedule for the day. To make transitions between activities easier, you can use a timer with an alarm to clearly communicate the beginning and end of an activity. Visual schedules can also be used to encourage important day-to-day activities like brushing teeth or washing hands. We often recommend including pictures of your child doing these tasks step-by-step.
#4) Create a sensory room at home
A sensory room is a dedicated safe space at home to help your child regulate their emotions when they’re experiencing sensory overload. What exactly this room looks like will depend on your child’s unique needs. For example, some children are soothed by certain colors, and if you find your child gravitates towards one, you could include objects or paint of that color in their sensory room. You may also find that your child is soothed by particular toys, smells, or sounds. Other items parents often find useful include weighted blankets, fidget toys, noise blocking headphones, and tents/forts.
#5) Connect with your child in nonverbal ways
Sometimes connecting with a child with autism can be difficult, especially when the child can’t communicate verbally or doesn’t like to be touched. However, paying careful attention to your child’s body language, sounds, and gestures can help you connect with your child the ways that work best for them. Paying careful attention to their non-verbal cues can help you celebrate with them when they’re happy, and intervene when they’re experiencing sadness, discomfort, or hunger.
#6) Remember to have fun
Children learn through having fun and play is an important part of a child’s development. While trying to help your child thrive and learn life-changing skills is important, parents can be so focused that they forget to laugh and play too.
Through play, you can allow yourself to destress from day-to-day routines and connect more deeply with your child while sharing a laugh together. Try finding an activity that follows your child’s current interests. What makes them laugh or smile? What makes you laugh and smile?
The earliest stages of navigating a diagnosis can be overwhelming for families. While there are steps you can take at home, the right therapy can help your child build life-changing skills.
Because every child with autism is unique, your child’s care should also be personalized. That’s why we use an individualized approach to autism care. From the diagnosis stage to personalized ABA therapy at home, the Songbird Therapy team designs care plans based on your child’s unique strengths, interests, and goals. Get started today and bring life-changing care for your child into your home with our team.
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