treating-autism-with-behavioral-therapy

As a parent, learning that your child has Autism can be a challenging moment. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s communication and social skills, making it harder for them to pick up essential life skills and interact with others. With the right treatment, children can mingle with their peers almost perfectly, even though there is no ultimate cure for Autism itself. Here, we provide an introduction to Behavioral Therapy, which is one of the most commonly prescribed treatment options for Autism, and discuss the various options available.

Understanding Autism

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) refers to a range of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect social, behavioral, and communicative abilities. Children with Autism often have trouble following rules or communicating with others, which makes it hard for them to form relationships. Treatment options include various kinds of therapy to help the child better handle themselves in social situations. Occupational Therapy, Behavioral Therapy, Speech Therapy, and Social Skills Therapy are all useful forms of intervention.

Symptoms of Autism

No two children on the Autism spectrum will have the same exact set of symptoms. Generally, children face social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that make themselves evident in the first few years of life. Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • Avoiding eye contact and wanting to be alone most times
  • Repeating behaviour patterns excessively
  • Resisting towards any change in schedule
  • Being unable to understand social cues or the other person’s point of view
  • Avoiding physical contact such as cuddling
  • Not being able to follow the rules of a game, take turns, or share with others
  • Having trouble using language or typical actions to express a need

Types of Behavioral Therapy for Autism

Behavioral Therapy has been demonstrated to be the most effective solution for long-term integration of children with Autism. Many teachers try to integrate children into mainstream schooling from the get-go. While this is undoubtedly the long-term goal, a course on Behavioral Therapy at an early age strengthens social skills that allow for a more complete integration with mainstream currents. There are various types of Behavioral Therapy that your child may respond to, depending on their personality and temperament. The most commonly used types include:

  • Applied Behavior Therapy (ABA): This is one of the most common Behavioral Therapy options for children with Autism. It involves helping children achieve positive goals and learn how to identify and avoid negative behaviors. Therapists tailor the treatment plan to each child by first observing their current behavioral patterns and then determining the best goals for them. They then break down each desired skill into manageable components and teach the child those components through reinforcement, repetition, and rewards. Therapists also advise parents and other caregivers to learn ABA Therapy for Autism so that it can be reinforced at home and elsewhere, in addition to during therapy sessions. Depending on how serious the child’s symptoms are, the therapist may recommend up to 40 hours of ABA per week.
  • Sensory Integration Therapy: This type of Behavioral Therapy focuses on sensory processing disorders that a child with Autism may have. The essential goal is to help the child adjust to sensory inputs that the child finds overwhelming, while moderating the sensory inputs that the child is hyposensitive too. This type of therapy usually involves a tailored sensory diet to help the child process inputs without being over- or under-stimulated. Parents will also be given recommendations on appropriate sensory toys that can be used.
  • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI): This is a relatively new type of therapy for Autism. It involves encouraging positive social behaviors in the child through active participation from parents, thus helping the child form stronger personal and emotional connections. RDI focuses on building dynamic intelligence, which is what helps the child process information, cope with changes, and understand multiple perspectives. Ultimately, this enables children to control social behavior and express their feelings fluently. Typically, the therapist will observe the child’s current behavior and then guide the parents through a workshop that teaches the basics of RDI.
  • Communication Interventions: This type of therapy helps children with Autism communicate effectively, be it verbal or non-verbal communication, and thus interact better with people and environments. Therapists can recommend the use of smart tablets or cue cards for those with verbal deficiencies. They may also use various games, group tutoring sessions, and modeling behaviors to encourage effective communication and avoid tantrums or other frustrated behaviors.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Since the 1960s, research on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Autism has demonstrated its efficacy on children with milder forms of Autism. This type of therapy defines triggers for various types of behavior in a manner that children can recognize those triggers and modify their actions accordingly. For instance, cognitive behavioral therapy can help children see that loud noises make them angry or frustrated, and thus nudge them towards leaving the room or putting on some noise-canceling headphones. 
  • Floortime: The formal name for this type of Behavioral Therapy for Autism is Developmental and Individual Differences Relationship (DIR) Therapy. This involves the therapist or caregiver interacting with the child through activities the child enjoys. It encourages the children to select their own activity, while the therapist or caregiver follows the child’s lead.

Benefits of Behavioral Therapy for Autism

While it was assumed for a long time that Behavioral Therapy is only needed for excessively boisterous children, it is now recommended for everyone on the Autism spectrum. ABA Therapy for high functioning Autism has also delivered promising results. Behavioral Therapy is safe for all children and delivers clear-cut improvements on social skills, independent functionality, and the ability to communicate needs and emotions. At the same time, it is important to remember that not all children will respond equally well to all types of Behavioral Therapy. Moreover, as the child grows older, the types of therapy they respond to might evolve. It is thus necessary to keep tracking the child’s progress and make adjustments as required.

Other treatments for Autism

While Behavioral Therapy is an important component of treatment for Autism, it should be used in conjunction with other treatments. These include Autism-specific treatments as well as the normal medical check-ups that every child needs. 

    • Occupational Therapy: This type of therapy focuses specifically on teaching the child skills related to daily functioning. It can include feeding oneself, getting dressed, taking a bath, and holding a pencil. 
  • Stem Cell Therapy: The premise of Stem Cell Therapy is to allow the body to heal itself well enough to mitigate the symptoms of the condition for longer periods. This treatment is safe, speedy, and often completed within a day or two.
  • Diet: While there are no direct links between diet and Autism, many parents may wish to remove certain food groups from the diet of a child with Autism. In such cases, it is necessary to consult the doctor and ensure that the diet contains all the nutrients that the child needs for good health. In general, eating whole foods and plenty of high fiber and lean protein will keep your child healthy and thus reduce the likelihood of tantrums or meltdowns due to physical discomfort.
  • Physical therapy: Appropriate forms of exercise can help children work through several frustrations. Cardiovascular activities, yoga, stretching exercises, and jungle gym activities are all options to integrate. This also helps to maintain overall fitness levels. 
  • Alternative treatments: Many parents prefer to treat their child through alternative programs such as meditation, acupuncture, or herbal medication. It is always essential to ask the doctor about this beforehand so as not to cause any potential harm.
  • Regular check-ups: Children with Autism require regular medical and dental check-ups, much like any other child. This is also important because some behaviors that children with Autism display may actually be indicators of a physical problem. For instance, head banging could be an act of frustration, but it could also indicate earaches or migraines. In addition, children with Autism are more prone to other disorders such as ADHD, which a doctor can identify early if there are scheduled check-ups. 

FAQs

  • How do you deal with a behavioral problem with Autism?

Therapists recommend that parents not give in to problematic behaviors by simply giving the child what they want. Instead, they should communicate what is expected of the child through visual cues and praise the child once they have stopped the offending behavior or demonstrated the desired behavior.

  • Why is ABA bad for Autism?

If the ABA therapist is not adequately trained or does not form a strong enough bond with the child, they may unintentionally lead to the development of new problematic behaviors. Overall, however, ABA is a safe and beneficial form of therapy.

  • Can ABA therapy cure Autism?

Experts agree that ABA therapy is the safest and most effective form of therapy to instil stronger communication and social skills.

  • How much does ABA therapy cost?

ABA therapy can be quite expensive, with the average fee per hour being around $120. This, however, becomes quite affordable with the right kind of insurance coverage.

  • How do you manage Autism behavior?

Some easy ways to guide a child with Autism towards better behavior include reinforcing positive behaviors, offering a choice of non-essential activities, practising transitions, and teaching them coping skills.

  • How do you help an angry child with Autism?

The parent or caregiver should always listen to their child so that they can understand where their anger is coming from. They should provide the child with a safe space to express their anger until they calm down, and then work with the child to reach a compromise if the child cannot have what they want. 

  • How can Autism be improved?

Given that Autism does not have an ultimate cure, treatment options focus on managing the symptoms or instilling desirable skills and habits to help the child fit in better at school, home, or other environments.

  • What are the most effective treatments for Autism?

Applied Behavioral Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Social Skills Therapy, Sensory Integration Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Stem Cell Therapy are all effective and proven ways to treat Autism.

  • How do you calm a child that has Autism, from screaming?

The most important point for parents or caregivers to remember is to keep calm when a child with Autism is screaming. Yelling back at them or using physical punishments will be ineffective and may end up traumatizing the child. The best way to calm down a screaming child is to give them a sensory tool such as noise-cancellation headphones, a weighted blanket, or a fidget toy to distract them.

In conclusion, Behavioral Therapy remains the most reliable way to teach valuable social and communication skills to children with Autism. Invest some time in figuring out what works best, be it ABA therapy or RDI or a mix of different types, and keep observing your child’s progress, and checking in on how they are feeling. Over time, you’ll see definite improvements.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.