What are the Different Kinds of Autism Intervention?

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  • Written By: Deborah Walker
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Autism intervention generally falls into one of two categories: educational or medical. The primary goal of both types of intervention is to help the child or adult with autism be as functionally independent as possible. Educational interventions may include applied behavior analysis or ABA, pivotal response, therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy with a particular focus on sensory integration, physical therapy, and other approaches. Common medical interventions may include the use of antidepressants and other drugs to moderate behaviors. The use of dietary supplements, elimination diets, and chelation are alternative, and sometimes controversial, autism interventions.

Applied behavior analysis is an educational autism intervention in which the person with autism is taught a specific skill or behavior. ABA teaches letter identification or can be used to teach alternatives to self-injurious behaviors, or other similar tasks, by means of very structured teaching methods and systematic rewards. Pivotal response therapy is similar to ABA, but instead of targeting a specific skill or behavior, it focuses on teaching developmentally-appropriate skills, such as social interactions or self-care, in a real-life context.

Speech and language therapy targets social skills, including initiating a conversation, and practical skills such as using the phone to order pizza. Articulation, voice modulation, and proper sentence construction are other areas speech therapy addresses. One commonly used autism intervention for people with difficulty expressing themselves verbally is a system of picture icons paired with words called The Picture Exchange Communication System, PECS.


Another autism intervention, occupational therapy, focuses on developing fine motor skills. An occupational therapist may work with the client on printing letters and numbers, pouring water from a pitcher into a glass, using utensils, writing one's name, or hanging up clothing on a hanger. The therapist also helps people with autism develop more tolerance to sensory stimulation and demonstrates caregivers and teachers techniques, such as applying pressure to the shoulders, that they can use to help the person with autism calm down.

Physical therapy's primary aim is to help the autistic person gain control of his or her large muscles through exercises and activities. Younger children may work on walking up and down stairs, riding a bike, or jumping rope. Physical therapy as an autism intervention for older people assists with accessing recreational and leisure activities in their communities. The physical therapist may teach the person with autism how to use exercise equipment or how to bowl.

Medical management is often used alongside educationally-based autism intervention. Hyperactivity and erratic, unpredictable behaviors, self-stimulatory behaviors, and self-injurious behaviors are commonly seen in people with autism. Medications under a doctor's supervision may help minimize these types of behaviors. Antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotics are widely prescribed to people with autism. It can be difficult, however, to arrive at the proper dosage because people with autism often respond differently to drugs than non-autistic people.

Alternative therapies may be used as autism interventions, but are often quite controversial. Vitamin B6 and DMG are two dietary supplements used to treat autism. High-protein, ketosis-inducing diets have also been tried as an autism intervention, as have regimens eliminating dairy, sugar, gluten, and other foods. Perhaps the most controversial autism intervention is chelation therapy in which heavy metals, specifically mercury in the case of autism, are flushed from the system via intravenous administration of chelating agents.


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