6 Autism Therapies Parents Can Provide in Their Own Home

Help Your Child Build Skills and Improve Behaviors

It's expensive to care for a child with autism. Even if you have top-notch insurance and a wonderful school district, you'll pay premium prices for everything from ​babysitting to summer camp. Therapy can be a costly added expense, especially when (as is often the case) some of the best therapists won't accept insurance.

Fortunately, however, there are many well-established risk-free therapies that parents can provide on their own with relatively little cost in time or money. Even better, therapies provided by parents can be just as effective as those provided by therapists. Best of all, these are therapies that can help parents bond with their children while also building skills. Of course, not every parent wants to (or is good at) providing therapy to an autistic child, but if you're hoping to save money while bonding with your child it's well worth a try.

Many parents can get started with these therapies by reading, watching videos, or attending classes online or in person.  Other parents are more comfortable working with a trained therapist until they feel comfortable taking the lead. Even if parents do 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.

1

Play Therapy

Play therapy is exactly what it sounds like: learning through the process of play. For children with autism, 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.

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.

2

Speech Therapy

While speech therapy is a complex field, there are aspects of speech and communication therapy that parents can provide with relatively little training. 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.

3

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 his own, ask him to do so.
  • If he does a good job, praise and reward him with a small treat. If he doesn't comply, ask him 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 him with a visual aid such as a chart showing the steps of the skills you're teaching.
4

Floortime

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. 

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

5

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

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

6

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."

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Article Sources
  • SY Shire et al. Caregiver strategy implementation-advancing spoken communication in children who are minimally verbal. J Autism Dev Disord.2018 Apr;48(4):1228-1234. doi: 10.1007/s10803-017-3454-0.
  • The Lancet. Parent-led early intervention for autism is the first to show reduction in symptom severity through to ages 7-11. ScienceDaily, 25 October 2016.
  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Website. 2018. http://www.pcit.org/