In this section we are looking at therapies which can be used both in the early years, and most importantly, at any stage throughout a person’s lifetime.
A great deal of emphasis is given to early intervention, and many of these therapies are used as part of intensive programs in the early years. But they can be beneficial well beyond this period.
Until now, many people have not used therapies when older, often because there has been no funding available to help pay for them.
The advent of the NDIS means that each individual’s needs can be addressed, and these therapies can form part of tailor made funding packages to help support their needs and goals.
Speech and language therapy
Communication impairments are one of the core elements of a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. An individual’s issues with communication of all sorts can severely impact how they interact with the world and live their life.
At the beginning, many families do not fully grasp that communication is much more than being able to understand and use spoken language. Communication begins with non-verbal communication, babies learn to shake their head for ‘no’ and nod for ‘yes’ very early.
Also joint attention and sharing experiences through looks and gestures are key parts of early communication. These can be taught too.
Most children on the spectrum will learn to talk, but how well they can understand and use spoken language varies wildly.
Speech and language therapy can be used effectively throughout life and finding a speech pathologist who can work with your family long term is a wonderful thing.
There are so many parts of language and communication: receptive language, meaning understanding what others say and mean; spoken language, putting your own words together; pragmatic language, the social conventions like volume of speech and the to and fro nature of conversation.
In the school years, a speech pathologist may help your child with their written English work as well as with the more complex language and communication skills needed if a child is in mainstream school.
Small changes in communication ability can mean huge improvements in the daily life of your family, at any age.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication
Speech pathologists may introduce systems of communication that assist or replace spoken language. Typically these start with pictures of photographs, the best known being PECS, Picture Exchange Communication System and more recently apps like Proloquo2Go
Signing is often used with very young children. It is not an alternative to speech, but in fact aims to act as a motivation, and can certainly help with overall communication. For adults who do not use speech, signing can remain helpful.
Speech generating devices are now used commonly. There are devices which generate speech plus now also apps which work on tablets and phones. Again these can encourage spoken language, a fact which often surprises parents.
You will also find some great information, videos and useful links on the PrAACtical AAC website. Make sure you sign up for their newsletter to receive the most up to date information.
Occupational therapists are professionals who assist their patient to take part in daily living skills, for young children this means family life, play and preschool and school.
An occupational therapist who is experienced in working with children on the autism spectrum starts with a full assessment of the particular issues of that child. Then a program is worked out, this can assist with all sorts of things like:
- Gross motor skills, like running, riding a bike and catching balls
- Fine motor skills like drawing and cutting, using a fork and knife
- Low muscle tone
- Motor planning, the ability to do one movement after the other
Social Skills Learning
This is a rather huge topic, as social interaction is such a core element of autism and the way that we all interact with other is so very complex.
A typically developing child learns social skills from their families, starting from birth. Each person’s social abilities vary wildly and are, of course, heavily influenced by their own family and community. How on earth to teach these skills?
Well, social skills can be learned and are generally taught as part of an early intervention program and then continued at school and beyond.
These may take the form initially of one-to-one learning and then progress to being taught in play and out and about in the community.
Some psychologists, early intervention groups and speech pathologists offer social skills training in groups.
Social Stories, the telling of short simple stories to illustrate good social skills can be written by parents, teachers and therapists to help children learn.
Video modeling can also be very effective in showing children social skills, see below.
See the Social Life section of Autism Launchpad for more information on promoting social skills for older teenagers and adults.
For visual learners, video modelling can be a highly effective way to teach almost anything. If your child loves watching videos and has ever copied what he or she has watched then it is well worth trying video modelling.
From simple toy play to how to tie shoe laces, from conversations skills to how to flirt, video modelling can be used as the first teaching method for many children.
You can read about video modelling on many websites and can even buy some simple video models to use.
Read more about video modelling on these websites:
There are also dozens if not hundreds of pre-made video models on Youtube.
Video self modelling is when children are filmed doing activities and then shown the videos of their successful interactions or abilities. This can also be a highly effective teaching method. Again there are many videos about this on Youtube.
As children enter the school years, having a psychologist to work with can be very beneficial. Ideally a family builds a relationship with a clinician before any difficulties occur and indeed use the psychologist to prevent problems arising.
Sadly school life can be difficult for many children and teenagers and they may need help to cope. Schools and teachers can also benefit from having expert advice in working with a child on the spectrum.
During puberty and the teenage years it is very common for families to have issues. This is common for all children, many issues our kids have are typical teenage issues really, not specific to their autism. Having an experienced psychologist to talk to can be invaluable for both parents, children and siblings.
CBT, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
For older children and especially for teenagers and adults, CBT can be a useful tool. CBT is part of most psychologists’ toolbox. How we think about something changes the way we feel and behave, so to start working on changing the thinking is the first aim of CBT.
CBT aims to replace negative thinking with positive and realistic thoughts, in turn helping a person feel better about themselves and difficult situations.
Relaxation techniques and strategies to cope with anxiety are often also taught as part of CBT programs.