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What type of therapy is best for autism

Types of therapy for autism

There are a number of therapies that can support children with autism. The therapy recommended per child may vary based on age, personality, needs and range of ability.

Autism may occur with a variety of mental health and physiological conditions. Cooperation among therapies and providers can prove beneficial in many of these situations.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

As the most commonly used therapy for children with autism, ABA develops social skills, improves language competency, and enhances good behavior using positive reinforcement techniques, meaningful rewards, and consequences. 

Following are some of the most common ABA objectives:

  • Increased social skills
  • Improved expressive and receptive communication effectiveness
  • Enhanced hygiene and self-care
  • Teaching cooperative behavior when playing with others
  • Maladaptive behavior reduction

The most complete autism intervention package is ABA therapy. ABA therapy is very important for children with autism as it addresses topics such as effective communication, skill imitation, cognitive abilities, self-regulation, recreational and interpersonal skills, behavioral management, and safety skills.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

This methodology educates children with autism on how to form bonds with their parents and other family members. Psychological, social, and flexible thinking are all components of this family-based therapy. Children must also learn to cope with transitions, which can be particularly difficult. Parents undergo instruction and become their child’s primary therapist as part of the RDI program.

Play therapy

Autism play therapy differs from play therapy designed for other illnesses. Therapists are far more prescriptive in this type of therapy for autism than for anxiety and other mental health conditions. Play therapy helps children with autism learn to interact with people in a way that they understand: playing. Autism affects how children interact with other children; for example, an individual with autism may concentrate primarily on one aspect of a toy and seldom engages in pretend play.

A therapist can help children engage with others by helping them widen their focus and approach. This type of therapy can bring a child out of a narrow play scope and into a world of collaborative experiences and relationships. Kids explore their surroundings, feelings, and relationships by developing their interests.

Equestrian therapy

Often known as therapeutic horseback riding, Equestrian Therapy allows children with autism to ride horses in a safe and non-threatening environment. The therapist is in charge of both the horse and the child. According to research, therapeutic horseback riding improves social and communication skills, while reducing irritability and hyperactivity.

Speech therapy

People with autism may benefit from speech therapy; however, it isn’t always the most effective strategy as it may not be possible for individuals who suffer from severe autism to participate. Higher-functioning individuals may benefit most from speech therapy, and it might assist children and adults with ASD in overcoming social isolation. 

Sometimes, an individual with autism may have a comorbid diagnosis that requires speech therapy. In these circumstances, It can be beneficial to use a therapy type that treats both autism and the health condition itself. Speech and language therapists or other professionals can provide these treatments.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a common type of talk therapy where a mental health counselor works with individuals in a select number of sessions, which can last over 8-12 weeks, depending on the child. Therapists are constantly refining the technique to make it more consistently effective in dealing with anxiety and other issues.

Music therapy

Music may be able to assist individuals with autism in relating to their own and others’ emotions. Music therapy involves working with a therapist while listening to music to help enhance emotional connections. 

Sensory integration

Autism can affect how sensory information is processed which may result in sensory over-stimulation or under-stimulation. Sensory input can manifest itself in actions that are difficult to explain. People with ASD can use sensory integration to control sensory input and help them better manage sensory overload.


Receiving an autism diagnosis for your child can be overwhelming and scary. But the diagnosis is just your jumping-off point; depending on your child’s specific needs, there are many different therapy options. Research has revealed more about autism over the past few decades, and while there is still no cure, there are a range of evidence-based tools for addressing its symptoms.

Early screening is crucial, as research shows the earlier you intervene, the more positive the results will likely be. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it looks different in every person who has it. When creating a treatment plan for your family, your doctor may incorporate any of these therapies—or a combination of them—to help your child strengthen a variety of essential life skills.

Behavioral Therapy

When it comes to treating the challenging behaviors that come with autism, behavioral therapy has decades of evidence behind it—especially when kids receive it early in their development. Applied behavior analysis looks at your child’s behavior as a form of communication, and it teaches them more appropriate ways to communicate their needs. For example, if your child runs out of the classroom at school, she may be saying that she needs a break. A behavior therapist can pinpoint what’s behind a challenging behavior and teach your child a better way to communicate her needs—such as signaling for a break instead of running away. Make sure your therapist is trained in applied behavior analysis to ensure they’re using research-based strategies.

Speech Therapy

Working with a speech pathologist can help your child address a variety of communication-related issues: word articulation, sentence formation, and even listening skills. Depending on your child’s specific needs, a therapist may work with him individually or in a small group with peers working on similar skills. Sessions might focus on understanding verbal directions, responding to social cues, asking and answering questions, or taking turns in a conversation. The small, controlled environment can give your child the specific instruction, feedback, and practice he needs to develop better communication skills. Speech therapists can also help you decide whether any assistive communication tools are a worthwhile option.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy helps your child become more independent at daily living activities. Sessions may focus on life skills, such as eating or getting dressed, or on motor skills, like gripping a pencil or developing body coordination. Occupational therapists use interactive activities to develop and strengthen the skills your child needs to become more independent. These therapists can also provide you with guidance on whether any adaptions or assistive technology can help your child succeed, like a specialized grip for writing or noise-cancelling headphones in certain environments.

Sensory-Integration Therapy

This specific type of occupational therapy zeroes in on the difficulty many children with autism have processing noises, sounds, lights, textures, and other sense-related triggers. Sessions teach your child to process these anxiety-producing triggers by gradually increasing their tolerance to them with play-based activities. Research is starting to show this approach helps the brain relearn how to respond in a more calm and positive way. One study showed that kids who received sensory-integration therapy, in addition to other ongoing therapies, made greater gains than peers who left out the sensory-integration piece. If your child struggles with stimuli like food texture or the noise of a crowded room, sensory-integration therapy could be a positive, effective way to directly address the issue.

Social Skills Therapy

You may decide to enroll your child in therapy sessions that specifically focus on developing and practicing social skills. Speech therapists or autism specialists often run these groups, and they’re a safe space for children to learn and practice getting along with others and better understand social situations. While children without autism usually figure out the unspoken rules of social interactions, kids on the spectrum often need a bit more instruction and feedback to do so. Sessions provide kids with explicit modeling and feedback, often using fun programs and stories to do so, providing them with memorable cues and reminders to call up when needed.


No matter your child’s specific symptoms and behaviors, your doctor can help guide you to the best treatment options for your family. Researchers continue to make progress in understanding autism, and with early therapy, children can effectively build the skills and tools they need to thrive.

A number of therapies can help people with autism improve their abilities and reduce their symptoms. Starting therapy early — during preschool or before — improves the chances for your child’s success, but it’s never too late for treatment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends you start to research therapies as soon as you suspect your child has autism, rather than waiting for a formal diagnosis. It can take a lot of time, tests, and follow-ups with specialists to get a formal diagnosis.

What works varies from person to person. Get to know some of the most popular — and proven — therapies.

Play Therapy

Children with autism often play differently than other kids do. They’ll likely focus on parts of a toy (like wheels) rather than the whole toy. They “pretend play” like other kids do. And they may not want to play with others.

But to many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), playing is the way they express themselves — their toys and their actions may become their words. Play can help children with ASD learn and connect with other people, both children and adults, in a way they understand.

Play therapy can improve their social and emotional skills, help them think in different ways, add to their language or communication skills, and expand the ways they play with toys and relate to other people.

Children with ASD can benefit from any one of several kinds of play therapy:

Floortime is a common play therapy.  You, a teacher, or a therapist gets down on the floor to play with your child on their terms. You join in by playing the same way that your child is playing, then you add something to the game.

It might be a second toy or a few words to introduce language to the game. The goal is to create play that goes back and forth between you and your child to encourage more communication and add something new to their play. It should help them grow emotionally and learn how to better focus their thinking.