The most common therapies for autism are psychology, occupational therapy and speech pathology.
Psychologists work with other health professionals including general practitioners, paediatricians and psychiatrists to identify and treat childhood
disorders such as ASD. Psychologists use a range of assessment processes to determine whether individual children meet the criteria for an
ASD, whether a different diagnosis is appropriate, or whether difficulties of a more general nature are being experienced. The information
gathered from assessments is used by psychologists to make recommendations for individually-designed intervention programs that meet the specific
needs of each child. Psychologists use a range of techniques including behavioural strategies, skills training, and emotional regulation to
help children with ASD cope better in their everyday lives.
Professionals who are concerned about a child's intellectual, behavioural, social and/or communication abilities should refer the child for assessment by a psychologist. This will provide information about whether the child is developing at an appropriate level for his or her age. For example, a child should be referred for assessment by a psychologist if he or she is exhibiting unusual levels of fear, stress, and anxiety, has difficulty socialising, is experiencing difficulties with learning, or is engaging in unusual behaviours.
Occupational therapists (OTs) can assist children to engage in school, play, and self-care occupations and to participate in their life roles with
their families at home, school, and in the community. They assist children to manage sensory sensitivities, as well as the behavioural and
coordination difficulties, that often accompany ASD. OTs can help children to overcome challenges they may have with daily activities. OTs
use children's everyday activities as the focus of intervention and are expert at modifying activities and environments to better suit a child's
Referral to an OT is appropriate if a child has difficulties with play, managing transitions, self-care, or school-work tasks such as concentrating and writing, or has sensory and coordination difficulties. OTs specialise in enhancing children's development and skill acquisition and, when necessary, designing support programs that allow children to use their skills and strengths optimally.
Speech Pathologists help to identify if a child's language and communication development is delayed or is different to that of other children.
Speech Pathologists aim to develop skills in social communication, speech and language development, learning and cognitive abilities and play
A referral to a speech pathologist occurs when a child displays the following difficulties: Delayed onset or delayed development of speech and language; regression or loss of communication skills; problems with understanding spoken language; frustration and challenging behaviours resulting from communication difficulties; difficulty with conversation, forming relationships, and socialising with peers, family members, and others; and learning difficulties.
There are many other therapies that may be helpful for children and adults on the autism spectrum. The Raising Children website has a Parent Guide to Therapy which is a great resource to find out more about each therapy and get an overview of the research evidence behind it, and the time and cost required to implement.
Here's a brief description of other therapies common for autism from the Guide.
Music therapy uses music and the interactions between teachers and children to teach specific skills. There are many different types of music therapy. For people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), music therapy uses interactive musical activities to improve social and communication skills.
Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is an approach to understanding and changing behaviour. It's not a specific therapy itself, but a range of different strategies and techniques that can be used to teach people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) new skills and reduce their difficult behaviour. When ABA techniques are used with young children with ASD, it's often called Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (EIBI).
Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®) is a parent-led approach that focuses on teaching children how to develop social skills and think flexibly – for example, how to understand different perspectives. Children learn how to engage and form close relationships with others. The goal of Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®) is to develop children's ability to think flexibly and handle social situations. Supporters of this approach believe that improvements in relationships and engagement with others lead to an improved quality of life.