Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is defined as a developmental disability that affects the way individuals socialise, behave, and interact with one another. As autism is presented on a spectrum, there are varying levels of severity in symptoms presented among individuals.
The goal of autism treatment is to improve the child’s ability to function and mitigate their symptoms in their development and learning. Treatment may start as early as in preschool to improve their skills, but it is also never too late to begin. It is important there is no one-solution-fits-all to approach the treatment of ASD. Treatments that work may vary from person to person. Each autism intervention or treatment should be individualised according to the ability of the child and may change over time. We explore some evidence-based treatments that have been proven effective to treat ASD.
Since poor communication skills are one of the symptoms for people with ASD, speech therapy is a viable treatment option. An expert speech-language pathologist or speech therapist would help communication skills by helping them express their needs and wants. People with ASD have varying abilities in speech, some may be able to talk well while others struggle to carry a conversation with others.
Some objectives in improving verbal skills include:
- Improving rate and rhythm of speech
- Better understanding and expressing feelings and emotions
- Using correct words in speech
- Taking turns in a conversation
Some objectives in improving non-verbal skills include:
- Making eye contact
- Using pictures and understanding gestures
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a widely accepted and reputable approach used by many to help peoples with ASD. ABA therapy is effective for people of all ages, from early childhood through adulthood. This approach focuses on reinforcing positive behaviours and reducing negative behaviours.
ABA is also a flexible treatment that:
- Can be adapted according to the needs of person with ASD
- Implemented in multiple settings
- Teach new skills in new situations
- Be used one-to-one or group instruction
There are various types of ABA that can be implemented to treat ASD:
Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT)
- A style of teaching that uses a series of trials to teach skills in a step by step manner. Positive behaviours and answers will be rewarded with positive reinforcement and mistakes would be ignored to encourage child to use new skills.
Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI)
- Used for young children with ASD, usually under the age of 5, to teach in a structured manner to encourage positive behaviour (e.g communication skills) and reduce unwanted behaviour (e.g aggression, self-harm, tantrums). This approach would be individualised and conducted one-to-one or small group instruction.
Positive Behaviour Support
- Building or changing an environment at home or in school to make positive behaviour feel more rewarding for child with autism.
Pivotal Response Training (PRT)
- This approach aims to increase child’s motivation to learn, managing own behaviour and taking the initiative to communicate with others. Child will be able to learn skills that would enable them to deal with everyday situations.
Verbal Behaviour Intervention (VBI)
- A type of ABA that aims to improve verbal skills.
Social Skills Training
Social skills training helps to improve interaction with others, which includes conversational and problem-solving skills. It can be conducted one-to-one or group instruction using roleplay, social stories, and social narratives to help teach them to appropriately socialise with others.
Some objectives of this training include:
- Reading emotional cues
- Carrying a conversation
- Understanding humour and being a good sport
Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children (TEACHH)
TEACHH uses a structured teaching approach to teach skills to person with ASD to improve their understanding of the world. Teaching skills like dressing up by themselves would enable them to be more independent and support them to be more productive.
This approach focuses on:
- Addressing challenges in attention and executive function
- Visual and/or written strategies to supplement verbal communication
- Support social communication
When a child is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is normal for parents to have many questions about what do next in help caring for their child. Parenting may pose additional challenges. While there are many treatments and therapies available to help your child, it is important for the child to receive support from their parents. These parenting suggestions would help parents manage their child easier in their everyday lives.
#1: Set a Routine
The management of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) should be done in a consistent manner or through a schedule. Building a routine at home would help a child with ASD to practice what they have learnt from autism therapies or treatments. This can help to make learning new skills and behaviours more easily and transferrable in different situations. It is important to constantly communicate with teachers, therapists, or other experts to ensure that techniques used are linear when they are learning at home.
Setting a schedule
- When developing a schedule, identify 2 to 3 practises each day that the child and the family can be habitualised each day.
- For example, in the morning: Get up à shower à have breakfast
Reinforcing Therapy Practices at Home
To help support their progress in therapy, engaging in life skills at home would help improve the child’s development from home. Some possible ideas include:
- Dressing up by themselves – allowing them to practise picking their own attire for the day and putting on their clothes with as little assistance as possible
- Preparing their meals – the action of making their own bowl of cereal or spreading jam on toast for breakfast
- Cleaning up – putting the dishes in the sink after eating, putting books or toys back after the activity
#2: Focus on Strengths
When spending too much time trying to “resolve” challenges faced, many forget to focus on their strengths. There are some challenges that cannot be controlled, focus on what can be controlled and create an environment that allows them to thrive as much as possible. Rejoice in their potentials and do not aim for “normality”.
Learn to understand the challenging behaviour that they display and take it slow. Success do not come instantly, celebrate the simple things in small steps. Give the child experiences that may not be able to venture on their own and help build their interests into skills. Allow them the freedom to enrich themselves at their own pace.
#3: Get Support
Join a local autism community
Be it an online group or at an autism centre, parents would be able to meet others who understand and share tips about what they are going through. Resources of autism-friendly places can be shared with each other and friendships with other parents can be formed.
Individual, Marital or Family Counselling
While trying to navigate parenting for a child with autism, it is important for parents to take care of themselves. As things may get difficult or tough, looking into counselling as a safe place to express feelings honestly about how things have been.
As a part of self-care, parents need to take a break occasionally to take care of themselves. Relying on family or friends for support while parents take a night off or a few hours for themselves. Look into respite care, when someone takes care of child for a while, especially when dealing with a child with intense needs.
#4: Use Alternative Ways to Communicate
As children with ASD have varying abilities in their communication, it may be difficult for others to understand them in social situations. Some may have difficulty understanding verbally or in body language.
- Use Visual Cues to supplement verbal instructions
- Give time for child to process information before repeating a question
- Use gestures with speech
#5: Include child in everyday activities
While a child with ASD is more suited for a regular routine, it should not stop parents from bringing them out to experience new things. Taking them to errands such as going to the supermarket or buying food from a coffeeshop would help them get used to the world and expand their experiences.
Teaching them to take public transport to get from places to places would be beneficial from the child. By starting from nearby areas that are frequently visited, the child would be able to learn and practise life skills and be more independent.