Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Therapies and Supports

Find out what therapies and supports are available to help people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

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Types of support to help people with ASD

ASD is a lifelong disorder. You cannot change the fact that a person has ASD. But support can significantly improve the ability of that person to be successful in all areas of their life. This support is referred to as intervention.

Intensive intervention and therapy can help a person

  • learn new skills
  • change some behaviours that interfere with their functioning. 

Intervening as early as possible helps most people, so diagnosis in young children is important.

There are many programs and supports available for people diagnosed with ASD. Interventions for ASD can include:

  • occupational therapy
  • speech and language therapy
  • training for parents, families and caregivers
  • behavioural therapy, like applied behaviour analysis (ABA)
  • education and school planning in the form of an individual education plan (IEP)

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy helps teach daily life skills to people with ASD. The development of fine motor skills is important to a person’s ability to perform daily living tasks. This includes using your hands and fingers.

Occupational therapy can help people learn how to:

  • dress themselves
  • eat by themselves
  • be aware of their body
  • improve balance and coordination
  • improve their academic skills, like writing

Occupational therapy also teaches people how to deal with others or new situations. An occupational therapist often works directly with a person in a customized program.  

Speech and language therapy

People with ASD may need help with communication skills. Some are very vocal while others may not speak at all.

Knowing many words does not mean that someone with ASD can communicate in a way that is easily understood. And knowing only a few words may mean that someone with ASD communicates in their own way.

Some people with ASD are well spoken when talking about their favourite topic. However, they may be unable to communicate effectively in other areas.

A speech-language therapist can help people understand and use words to:

  • ask for help
  • ask and answer questions
  • look at books and tell stories
  • start, stop or take turns in a conversation

A speech-language therapist can also help people understand and use gestures to communicate. They may:

  • work directly with the person using a personalized program
  • teach the family, caregivers or teachers helpful skills

Training for parents, families and caregivers

Parents, family members, caregivers, teachers and peers can receive training so that they can help support a person with ASD. Many of these skills are meant to help caregivers:

  • learn how to deal with self-injuring behaviours
  • learn how to communicate with someone living with ASD
  • recognize and deal with situations that cause upset (triggers)
  • learn supportive routines and behaviours that bring comfort and promote success

Behavioural therapy

Behavioural therapy, especially applied behavior analysis (ABA), is often used to help people with ASD. This can be done in a group or by oneself with a therapist. This therapy tries to help a person with ASD:

  • recognize emotions
  • communicate better
  • be prepared for school or work
  • learn new, positive behaviours
  • learn daily life skills, like self-care
  • identify what upsets them (triggers)
  • make plans to get through tough social situations
  • stop negative behaviours, like hurting themselves

Education and school planning

At school, a plan can be made to support and structure your child’s learning. A committee identifies the needs of exceptional students. When they have identified these needs, they create a plan with help from the student and their parents or guardian. This is called an individual education plan (IEP).

Support at school should include behavioural, social and academic approaches. A team of professionals usually puts the plan together based on the child's strengths and weaknesses. It may include solutions such as:

  • various therapies
  • low student-to-teacher ratios
  • opportunities to interact with peers

Additional support

ASD is managed through a strong intervention and support system that starts early and continues into adult life. Additional supports are important during times of change while growing up. This includes:

  • early childhood
  • entering elementary and high school
  • becoming an adult
  • getting a job
  • transitioning to living alone or with assistance

Families need support too. Caregivers and family members can find support from government and community programs for things like:

  • respite care
    • this is planned or emergency care provided as temporary relief to families who are caring for a family member
  • financial aid
  • community involvement
  • parenting information and support

If you know someone with ASD, offer your support by learning about the condition. Seek help and advice from other families living with ASD. That way, you can be prepared for the potential challenges ahead. You can talk to your health care provider about support groups where you live.

Finding the program best suited to my child’s needs

Each person with ASD is unique and has different needs. Their intervention program should:

  • build upon strengths and abilities
  • be used at home, school and in the community
  • bring together different therapies and interventions that work for that person
  • reduce or eliminate behaviours that get in the way of learning and adjustment 

A personalized program should also include the family’s needs. The chances for success rise when families and caregivers are part of the intervention.

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