How are therapies and interventions helpful?
All parents want to ensure that their children are being given the best chance to make progress.
Effective early intervention can help your child:
- communicate with you and with other people
- understand more about the world around them.
Effective intervention can also help you:
- interact with your child better
- understand and respond to your child’s behaviour.
Structure needs to be communicated to the child in a way they can understand. For example, visual cues and schedules are helpful because children with ASD are often better at understanding information that is presented visually, in the form of pictures or photographs.
What kind of interventions might help?
There are several teaching and therapeutic approaches which have been developed specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders. Some were developed for all ages, and in all settings, while others are specifically for pre-school children in a home setting. The professionals working with you may use some of these approaches as part of the intervention programme being developed for your child at home or in a preschool or school setting.
Choosing an intervention method for your child
There’s a lot of debate about different types of intervention and therapies and some parents or professionals hold strong views about ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’. It’s important to remember that each child is different, and that what helps one child might not help another, and also that children can benefit from different interventions at different stages of their progress.
Before making decisions about a child’s treatment, parents should learn as much as possible about the different options that are available. Some of the questions parents can ask about programs for their children include:
- How successful has the program been for other children on the autism spectrum?
- Is it individualised to the child’s support needs?
- How many children have been placed in a regular school and how have they performed?
- Do staff members have training and experience working with children and adolescents on the autism spectrum?
- How are activities planned and organized?
- Are there regular daily schedules and routines?
- How much individual attention will my child receive and how will they be supported?
- How is progress measured?
- Will my child be given tasks and rewards that are personally motivating?
- Is the environment designed to minimize distractions?
- Will the program prepare me to continue the therapy at home?
- What is the cost, time commitment, and location of the program?
Communication is a particular challenge for children with ASD and difficulty in this area leads to frustration. Helping children to understand and communicate can lead to improvements in behaviour.
Picture Symbols (including PECS)
Some children who have not developed speech, or those who already have a vocabulary, find picture symbols helpful. Symbols enable them to communicate more effectively – for example, they can learn to ask for things. Many people with an ASD find learning easier if it’s presented in a visual way and it’s for this reason that they’re encouraged to use symbols. For some, the use of PECS (the Picture Exchange Communication System) will be a precursor to learning spoken language.
The approach is based on the idea that greater understanding between adult and child can be achieved when spoken words are supported by the use of a symbol or icon. Symbols can be used to construct timetables to help explain to a child what is going to happen and when. They can also be used as prompts when skills like brushing your teeth are being taught in a step-by-step way. Picture symbols can be particularly helpful if a child can’t make the eye contact that is needed to use sign language. Picture symbols are often used combined with other interventions.
Signing can be used with other communication systems like PECS, and with other interventions. Makaton and Signalong are two examples of signing. Signing is not usually taught as a replacement for speech, but to assist in the development of spoken language and communication of intentions. Signing may be a more accessible and interactive communication tool for children who have difficulty discriminating between visual symbols presented to them in pictures, or for those who do not have the fine motor skills or motivation to manipulate picture cards.
Occupational therapy may combine a variety of strategies. These can help your child respond better to his or her environment. These OT strategies include:
- Physical activities, such as stringing beads or doing puzzles, to help a child develop coordination and body awareness
- Play activities to help with interaction and communication
- Developmental activities, such as brushing teeth and combing hair
- Adaptive strategies, including coping with transitions.