Treatments for Autism

Each person with autism is unique, and therefore different treatments for autism exist. Some treatments are intended for children, while others work well as a person ages. In general, highly structured behavioral programs see the best results. Following are brief descriptions of some of the leading treatments for autism.

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

The ultimate aim of ABA is to invoke life skills in an individual with autism so he or she succeeds independently in the world. Through ABA people with autism learn behaviors essential to a meaningful life ranging from social skills to self-care skills. An adult supervisor teaches these skills through practice and repetition, and uses positive reinforcement to reward and encourage clients to master the skills at hand. The style of ABA is customized to meet the needs of each individual learner. Some individuals thrive on highly structured discipline while others require a more organic approach. Instructors make note of an individual’s progress and modify the application of ABA if the individual does not meet certain goals.


Floortime, based on the ideas of child psychologist Stanley Greenspan, posits that children with autism experience difficulty moving though typical levels of emotional and intellectual growth. Greenspan suggests that parents interact with their children at whatever level of intellectual/emotional growth he or she has progressed to presently, and then help the child to make progress from that point. Parents should allow their children to orchestrate the interactions while, with instruction, introducing the child to more complex interactions. This method does not pinpoint specific areas of development. Instead, it leads a child towards emotional and intellectual growth on the whole.

Gluten Free, Casein Free Diet (GFCF)

Gluten and casein are proteins found in wheat and similar products, and dairy products, respectively. The GFCF diet finds its basis in the notion that people with autism respond negatively to these proteins. Although no scientific evidence exists in support of the diet to date, many families claim positive results when they eliminate gluten and casein from their child’s diet. They report more regulated bowels, sleep, and activity, and general improvement in the condition of the child. However, parents should use caution when altering their child’s diet. It can impact one’s health negatively to eliminate certain foods without replacing them accordingly. For example, many children rely on milk and other diary products for their needed daily protein. Eliminating dairy products from a child’s diet without correspondingly supplementing the diet with another source of protein could harm a child’s overall health.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy aims to teach a person with autism the skills necessary for living a successful and individualistic life. With the help of both medical professionals and friends and family members, a person with autism learns basic home-skills, such as dressing and fixing meals, as well as social skills and academic skills, like reading and writing. With the help of professionals and family members, a person can learn the skills essential to a meaningful, independent life.


Sometimes children with autism exhibit little or no verbalization. PECS is based on the notion that some children with autism learn best visually, and that enabling a child to communicate nonverbally will eliminate the frustration of an inability to communicate when the only option is verbal communication. PECS uses images as modes of communication. One can purchase these images, or simply clip them from newspapers and magazines. Instructors teach children with autism how to communicate using the images. Thus the child learns how to communicate effectively, even if not verbally. Eventually the child may transfer these skills into verbal communication. In the meantime, the ability to communicate in general makes life less frustrating.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

The RDI program subsists on the findings of psychologist Steven Gutstein. His research indicates that people with autism lack dexterity in certain areas of life, which makes it difficult for them to function in a constantly changing environment. Gutstein organizes the said areas into these six groups: emotional referencing, social coordination, declarative language, flexible thinking, relational information processing, and foresight and hindsight. Dr. Gutstein set up a program in Houston that includes workshops and workbooks aimed at addressing these six areas. His program, at the Connections Center For Family and Personal Development, aides people with autism in improving the quality of their lives; it does not simply teach practical skills.

The SCERTS Model

The acronym stands for Social Communication and Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support. To explain, this model teaches effective communication in diverse situations, as well as the ability to maintain a stable emotional state. All individuals involved, including children, family members and professionals, receive support in order to maximize positive results for all. The program can be used in collaboration with other modes of treatment for autism, and can be used for people at varying levels of autism. The SCERTS model encourages an individual with autism to initiate communication rather than allow adults to dictate communication. The SCERTS model also uses visual stimulation, like the PECS model, and borrows from the philosophies behind the Floortime method. The SCERTS model is used in schools and at home with the reasoning that people with autism need support at all times. It requires the involvement of any people regularly involved in the life of the person with autism. Visit for more information.

Sensory Integration Therapy

The brain’s ability to accept and organize information of the senses is called sensory integration. People with autism suffer from sensory integration dysfunction, that is, they have ranging levels of increased of decreased sensitivity to sensory information. This can affect a person’s abilities in several areas including concentration, comprehension, coordination and impulse-control. Sensory Integration Therapy aims at improving the ability of an autistic person to process sensory information through physical practice in receiving and organizing such information.

Speech Therapy

Because each child with autism has different levels of speech capability, a person should be individually assessed before the beginning of any speech therapy. Speech therapy aims at helping an individual learn how to communicate usefully, and it is most effective when started during the preschool years. Speech therapy helps autistic children in areas ranging from the articulation of words to the workings of social interactions.


The TEACCH method, which has been in use since the 1960s, focuses on providing structure and organization in the daily life of an individual with autism. It pairs structured physical environments with routine activities to create the comfort of expectation. In this way the TEACCH method allows for the difficulties of a person with autism while teaching him or her how to function acceptably in society. Because the TEACCH method doesn’t specifically tackle areas of social life, it can be used in conjunction with other treatment methods to improve the quality of life.

Verbal Behavior Intervention

This method of applied behavioral analysis emphasizes the function of language. Rather than focus on the form of language, professionals teach patients how to reach goals through communication. Other programs teach students words, but leave them without the skills to use those words. VB focuses on the useful application of language. VB also aims at developing the ability to converse about subjects not immediately present, a staple of much communication.

Treatments for Autism. – Autism Speaks. 2008. Autism Speaks Inc. 20 Mar 2008

Treatments for Autism
Published: March 2008 © Carolina Pediatric Therapy

Want to know how a Therapist can Help?

Schedule your infant, child, and teen for an evaluation today and see how a therapist can help your family.
Call (828) 398 0043 or click on the schedule button.

Post navigation