6 Autism Therapies Parents Can Provide in Their Own Home

It can be expensive to care for a child with autism. Therapy can be costly, especially when some of the best therapists won't accept insurance (as is often the case).

While you can't "cure" autism—either at home or under a professional's care—parents can provide aspects of six well-established, risk-free therapies on their own without investing a ton of time or money. These therapies include:

  • Play therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
  • Floortime
  • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) for aggressive behaviors

Such parent-mediated interventions have been shown to provide long-term symptom reduction. And best of all, these are therapies that can help parents bond with their children while also building skills.

Many parents can get started with these therapies by reading, watching videos, or attending classes online or in person. Other parents prefer working with a trained therapist until they feel comfortable taking the lead. Even if parents choose to work with a therapist, they can also learn to provide therapy for their child between therapy sessions, thus building their own skills while lowering the cost of therapy.

Read on to learn about these six therapies and how they can help with autism at home.

How to Get Started With Floortime Play
Illustration by Nusha Ashjaee, Verywell

Play Therapy

Play therapy is exactly what it sounds like: learning through the process of play. Children with autism are more likely to play alone and repeat actions over and over, rather than engage in pretend play. Therefore, the goal of play therapy is to build social interaction and communication skills and, in the long run, to enhance children's ability to engage in novel activities and symbolic play.

Both parents and siblings can take part in play therapy. You can start by connecting with your child through simple chase-and-tickle games, bubble blowing, or sensory activities such as swinging, sliding, or wriggling through a tube. As your child's abilities grow, you may be able to build toward back-and-forth ​turn-taking games, collaborative games, or even make-believe.


Speech Therapy

Some children with autism may have trouble with speech or language skills. While speech therapy is a complex field, there are aspects of speech and communication therapy that parents can provide with relatively little training. This type of therapy can help improve speaking skills as well as nonverbal communication, including signs, gestures, pictures, or an electronic speaking device. One good way to get started is to visit the Hanen Centre online.

Hanen's More Than Words and Talkability programs are specifically designed for parents to use with their autistic children​ and are at the same time terrific techniques for bonding with your child. You can take an in-person Hanen class to learn their techniques or purchase their guidebook/DVD combos and get started.


Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied behavior analysis is often referred to as the gold standard of autism therapy, largely because therapists set very specific, measurable goals and often succeed in teaching skills. While it's possible to take courses and be certified in ABA, it's also possible to do a quick online training and use ABA techniques in your home through a program like the ATN/AIR-P Parent's Guide to Applied Behavior Analysis.

It's also possible to use the basic concepts behind ABA in many different settings without any kind of formal training. That's because the basics of ABA are really pretty simple and intuitive:

  • Choose the skill you want to teach (for example: brush your teeth).
  • Break the skill down into simple steps (find your toothbrush, wet it, etc.). 
  • Show the first step to your child; you may have to work hand-over-hand a few times. Once you're sure your child understands how to do the step on their own, ask them to do so.
  • If they do a good job, praise and reward them with a small treat. If they don't comply, ask them again. If necessary, repeat the training so you're sure your child is clearly connecting the words you use to the action you're requesting.
  • Once your child is successful with the first step, teach the second step. 
  • If your child needs support with linking together the steps (chaining), provide them with a visual aid such as a chart showing the steps of the skills you're teaching.


Floortime has a great deal in common with play therapy but is built around the idea that parents should work toward increasing "circles of communication" with their autistic child. In other words, through the use of Floortime techniques, parents encourage their child to participate in back-and-forth interaction (verbal or non-verbal)—something that can be very challenging for people on the spectrum. This helps children with autism to expand their social skills and make emotional connections.

Floortime involves joining the child’s activities and following the child’s lead through play. Sessions can be led by parents, guardians, and even older siblings. They last around 20 minutes or more and can be done just about anywhere.

Parents can learn about Floortime and learn Floortime techniques by taking online courses, watching videos, reading books, or working with a Floortime therapist.


Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

RDI is a therapeutic technique specifically developed for parents. Like Floortime, it uses developmental theories to help parents help their autistic children build social communication skills.

This model focuses on activities that help the child develop the ability to think flexibly and handle social situations. This includes learning how to cope with change and understand different perspectives. Unlike Floortime, however, RDI has a prescribed series of goals and activities​ and requires that parents work with a consultant in order to get started.

If you're interested in using a developmental therapy with your child and prefer a clearly defined program (and have the money to hire a consultant to get started), RDI might be a great choice for you.


Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) for Aggressive Behaviors

A significant minority of children with autism spectrum disorders have aggressive behaviors that make it very difficult to leave home or participate in typical activities. Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) technique, intended for children with aggressive behaviors, is provided by parents who are trained by consultants.

According to their website: "To interrupt a cycle of escalating negative behaviors between parent and child, the parents learn to incorporate clear limit-setting within the context of an authoritative relationship.

PCIT posits that a strong, secure attachment relationship is a necessary foundation for establishing effective limit-setting and consistency in discipline, which leads to improved mental health for both parent and child."

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pickles A, Couteur AL, Leadbitter K, et al. Parent-mediated social communication therapy for young children with autism (PACT): long-term follow-up of a randomised controlled trialThe Lancet. 2016;388(10059):2501-2509. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(16)31229-6.

  2. Solomon R, Van Egeren LA, Mahoney G, Quon Huber MS, Zimmerman P. PLAY Project Home Consultation intervention program for young children with autism spectrum disorders: a randomized controlled trialJ Dev Behav Pediatr. 2014;35(8):475–485. doi:10.1097/DBP.0000000000000096

  3. Shire SY, Shih W, Kasari C. Brief Report: Caregiver Strategy Implementation-Advancing Spoken Communication in Children Who are Minimally Verbal. J Autism Dev Disord. 2018;48(4):1228-1234. doi:10.1007/s10803-017-3454-0

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treatment and intervention services for autism spectrum disorder.

  5. Mohammadzaheri F, Koegel LK, Rezaee M, Rafiee SM. A randomized clinical trial comparison between pivotal response treatment (PRT) and structured applied behavior analysis (ABA) intervention for children with autismJ Autism Dev Disord. 2014;44(11):2769-77.

  6. International Council on Development and Learning. What is floortime?

  7. RDIconnect. An introduction to RDI.

  8. PCIT International. Professionals: What is PCIT?

By Lisa Jo Rudy
Lisa Jo Rudy, MDiv, is a writer, advocate, author, and consultant specializing in the field of autism.