Therapy is a critical piece of healing a child with autism, and we have created an autism therapy checklist to help you out.
Please note this checklist is also helpful for children with:
- Learning disabilities
- Sensory Processing Disorder
- Developmental delays
- Speech and language disorders
- Retained reflexes
- Other neurodevelopmental disorders
This is not intended to be a recommendation or endorsement of any specific treatment option.
Its sole purpose is to introduce you to the possible treatment options available for autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. There are many therapies listed below. If you feel overwhelmed trying to decide which therapy is right for your child, consider talking to an Epidemic Answers health coach who may be able to help point you in the right direction.
Autism Therapy Checklist
We believe that vision therapy, along with craniosacral therapy, should be one of the first therapies for your child with a neurodevelopmental disorder.
Children with autism often have trouble with the teaming and tracking of their eyes together, often seen as strabismus, eye turns or “lazy eye”, and this can affect attention and learning.
Before your child begins vision therapy, they will likely have a special eye exam administered by a developmental or behavioral optometrist.
The results of this exam determine the course of therapy, which often entails exercises such as patching one eye or the other, standing or hopping one foot or another while reading special text and performing this to the beat of a metronome.
Syntonics is a non-invasive form of light therapy that, when used in conjunction with traditional vision therapy, can increase the efficiency and speed of the effects of vision therapy.
This type of therapy is a great first line therapy because it is so calming and relaxing.
Many parents report that their child began to sleep through the night or have less difficulty transitioning after having craniosacral therapy done.
Occupational therapy (OT) is often covered by insurance plans, depending on your child’s diagnosis, as well as your child’s school district.
This type of therapy focuses on improving fine and gross-motor skills so that your child can function better in everyday life.
Be aware that traditional occupational therapy offered in the school system may typically only help your child improve their fine motor development or basic skills.
In addition to traditional occupational therapy, there are also two specific types of OT that can help your child: sensory-integration therapy and reflex integration.
Most children with autism also have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), although SPD can also be a standalone diagnosis.
However, SPD is not considered a diagnosis according to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition).
Sensory-integration occupational therapy consists of specific hands-on interactive play activities that can improve the sensory response to auditory, tactile, taste, smell, visual, vestibular, proprioceptive, vestibular and interoceptive stimuli.
As a baby matures, there are many primitive reflexes that should emerge and then integrate to further a child’s development.
In most children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders, these reflexes remain or are “retained”, thus hampering the progress of development and causing the eruption of symptoms that may lead to a neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosis.
Reflex-integration therapy aims to improve development and thus reduce symptoms by applying specific exercises.
Please note most traditional occupational therapists and sensory-integration therapists do not include reflex integration into their work on your child.
This type of therapy is similar to occupational therapy but focuses more on motor-skill building by first strengthening the body’s core and then large muscle groups before finally targeting fine motor skills.
Therapeutic horseback riding can improve strength, balance, motor coordination, language skills, social skills, emotional skills and sensory regulation.
Some parents have reported that their child either began to speak or improved their ability to communicate after beginning hippotherapy.
This type of therapy, typically performed by a physical therapist or an occupational therapist, offers strengthening exercises in a pool.
Because children with autism tend to be drawn to bodies of water and because drowning is an acute danger for these children, aqua therapy can not only improve motor coordination, balance, self regulation, strength and endurance but can also help your child be able to swim.
Brain Gym/Educational Kinesiology
This sequence of movements and exercises can improve hand-eye coordination, focus, concentration, memory, learning, language, reading, writing, listening, and hyperactivity.
By addressing a “neural timing deficit”, this type of therapy can improve the ability to plan and sequence motor actions.
Because of this, Interactive Metronome therapy can help with your child’s time-management and planning skills.
Speech and Language Therapies
Auditory therapies, also called sound therapy, are used to treat children with difficulties in auditory processing or sound sensitivity.
These therapies can integrate auditory and vestibular systems to help children with auditory processing deficits, thereby helping with attention, cognition and communication.
Auditory Integration Therapy, Sound Stimulation Therapy and Integrated Listening are examples of auditory therapies.
It is a good idea to have your child’s auditory processing checked before beginning speech and language therapy.
Oral Motor Therapy
Oral motor therapy offers mouth muscle strengthening that can help improve these issues.
Some oral-motor therapists specialize in speech issues while others focus on feeding issues.
Addressing Tongue Ties and Airway Obstructions
If you are considering oral motor therapy and/or speech and language therapy for your child, please know that many of these children have tongue ties and airway obstructions that may be contributing to the problem.
However, many oral motor therapists are not familiar with tongue ties and airway obstructions, so you may want to seek a myofascial therapist first before beginning oral motor therapy, as working with one may speed your child’s response to oral motor therapy.
This evidence-based, adaptive reading and language program is designed for children (and adults) that struggle with reading comprehension, dyslexia, vocabulary and memory by addressing auditory processing disrepancies.
The book The Brain That Changes Itself says that a study of Fast ForWord “quickly moved autistic children from severe language impairment to the normal range” as well as improve other symptoms like attention and eye contact.
Soma Rapid Prompt Method (RPM)
Soma®RPM can aid communication in non-verbal or low-verbal children with autism through pointing, typing, or writing.
Many parents of children with autism have said that their child’s expressive language improved after using this method.
The PROMPT program offers systematic manipulation of tactile-kinesthetic-proproiceptive input to oro-motor structure for restructuring oral muscular phonetic targets.
It can be especially helpful for children with motor planning speech related issues.
Verbal Behavior (VB) Speech Therapy
Verbal Behavior Therapy uses the principle of positive reinforcement to learn language by teaching why words are used and how words are useful.
Picture Exchange Cards
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)® cards enable the development of functional communication skills through picture exchange for non-verbal kids.
This approach, also sometimes called auditory bombardment, can be helpful for helping a child learn phonemes and improve phonological issues.
This program is based on an individual’s learning needs and identifies strengths and weaknesses that may be affecting school performance by addressing sensory-cognitive functions and the integration of reading-processing skills.
The Son-Rise Program®
The Son-Rise Program®, administered by the Autism Treatment Center of America, was developed by the parents of Raun Kaufman who was diagnosed with severe autism and an IQ of 30 as a child.
Years after the program, Raun graduated from Brown University with a degree in biomedical ethics, became an engaging and eloquent speaker, and authored Autism Breakthrough: The Groundbreaking Method That Has Helped Families All Over the World.
The program teaches loved ones how to be on the same level as a child with autism and especially focuses on the parent-child connection.
The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model of Intervention, also known as DIR Floortime, supports parents to promote their child’s development in cognition, attention, social problem-solving, motor skills and communication.
Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) is a family-based, behavioral treatment that focuses on building social and emotional skills by strengthening the building blocks of social connections.
Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT)
This play-based therapy is child-initiated by targeting pivotal areas of a child’s development to bring about improvements in social skills, communication, behavior and learning.
One-on-One Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is one of the first typical treatments used for children with autism, as it uses positive reinforcement to teach everyday skills.
Training and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH)
TEACCH is a model for the education of children with autism.
It uses outside organizational supports for attention and executive function challenges, visual and/or written information to supplement verbal communication as well as structured support for social communication
Social Communication/Emotional regulation/Transactional Support regulation (SCERTS®)
The SCERTS® Model is a research-based educational approach that addresses the core challenges fof children with autism.
It focuses on building competence in social communication, emotional regulation and transactional support as the highest priorities that must be addressed in any program,.
These scripted comic books use short, simple scenarios to help children with autism improve their ability to navigate social and emotional complexities.
Social Skills Group Classes
Many towns and cities have organizations that offer group classes for teaching social skills to children with autism.
Internet and social media searches will likely yield names of groups in your area that offer these classes.
Changing your child’s diet is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve symptoms of autism, and it’s very much within your control.
Changing the diet can lower inflammation, correct nutritional deficiencies and improve the effectiveness of other therapies, such as those listed above.
There is a wide range of diets that can heal the gut and thus the brain; to get started, click here.
Biomedical therapies address the root causes of autism, other neurodevelopmental disorders and other chronic health conditions.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is already known as an effective treatment for stroke patients, and it can be helpful for children with autism as well.
By retraining brain waves according to a child’s brain patterns, neurofeedback can improve symptoms such as attention deficits and anxiety.
The therapeutic use of art to foster self-expression and enhance coping skills can strengthen a sense of self.
This type of therapy may be especially helpful with children that are non-verbal.
Using music as a tool encourages the development of social, emotional, cognitive, learning and perceptual-motor areas.
Music therapy can especially be helpful with children that are non-verbal.
For more information about these and other therapies, click here to look at our reference library.
Payment for Therapies
There are two options for paying for therapies: state-subsidized therapy and private therapy.
These types of therapy are typically free, but not all children will qualify to receive them.
Birth To Three
Most states have a version of a state-funded program that provides free assessments and therapies to children with developmental delays of some kind, whether they are gross-motor skills or speech and language skills.
In some states, these programs are called Birth to Three; in others, they may be called Zero to Three.
Your child’s pediatrician will typically write a prescription for an evaluation by your state’s program.
You will then call your program’s local office to make an appointment; be aware that it can often take months to get an evaluation.
If your state’s program’s assessment finds that your child indeed has a developmental delay(s),
Because it may take a while to receive services for your child from these programs, it is best for you to pay attention to any delays in your child’s development.
Be aware that many pediatricians will often take a “wait and see” approach to your child’s delays.
We urge you to advocate strongly, early and often for your child with your pediatrician so that you can get an evaluation as soon as possible because your child will “age out” on their third birthday of any services provided by these programs.
Special Education Therapy
If your child ages out of your state’s Birth to Three program yet still needs services, be aware that your local public school system is required to provide services due to either the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
These therapies typically may include occupational therapy, physical therapy and/or speech and language therapy that will help with your child’s ability to learn.
If you believe your child could benefit from these services, contact your local public school system’s administration to set up an appointment for an assessment, even if your child goes to a private school or is home-schooled.
Be aware that it is often very difficult to qualify for these services, so you may need to pay for them yourself if your school system determines that your child doesn’t qualify.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for another evaluation from the public school system if you believe your child’s school is not providing services that would give him or her the ability to receive an appropriate education.
Private Therapy Programs
Services provided by your local public school system are typically basic and may not be enough to help your child lose their diagnosis.
Ask your child’s pediatrician to refer you to a developmental pediatrician, developmental psychologist or an educational psychologist, who may also refer you to an occupational therapist.
Either of these practitioners can evaluate your child’s development and will typically provide a detailed report of how your child compares mentally, socially, emotionally and physically with peers.
The Brain Balance program, although not used as a referral program by pediatricians, also offers an extensive evaluation.
However, all of these programs are paid for by you, not by your state or public school system.
In most cases, you will need to pay for services yourself and then submit to your insurance for reimbursement on your own, although without a diagnosis such as autism, your insurance typically will not reimburse you.
In a few cases, some therapy programs handle insurance for you directly so that you are not “out of pocket” any money upfront, but these are the exception rather than the rule.
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