Effective Therapies for Children with Autism (Part 2)

Effective Therapies for Children with Autism (Part 2)
Many children with autism have sensory problems. Getty Images

The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a comprehensive behavioral early intervention approach for children with autism, ages 12 to 48 months. The program applies a developmental curriculum that defines the skills to be taught at any given time and a set of teaching procedures used to deliver this content. It is not tied to a specific delivery setting, but can be delivered by therapy teams and/or parents in group programs or individual therapy sessions in either a clinic setting or the child’s home.

Psychologists Sally Rogers, Ph.D., and Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., developed the Early Start Denver Model as an early-age extension of the Denver Model, which Rogers and colleagues developed and refined. This early intervention program integrates a relationship-focused developmental model with the well-validated teaching practices of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis, simply put, focuses on the principles that explain how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. Through decades of research, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. 

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the use of these techniques and principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior.

The treatment begins with an assessment by the therapist. The purpose of the assessment is to determine which skills the child already possesses and where the child has deficits. The therapist next develops an ABA program aimed at increasing the child's skills in many areas. The program will likely include goals related to the child's academic development, communication skills as well as social skills and overall interaction with the environment.

  After identifying the goals, a therapist creates a series of steps to help the child reach them. The ABA therapist can employ a number of different procedures to teach the child with autism a given skill. ABA training is most effective if therapy begins when children are younger than age 5.


Many children with autism have sensory problems. Some are overly sensitive to stimuli such as lights, noises, and touch. Others are not sensitive enough. There are a number of sensory therapies that have been shown to improve the sensory problems children with autism have. Although these therapies can help, there is little scientific documentation that sensory therapies are effective. The goal is to help regulate the child's reaction to external stimuli. For example, if the child is hypersensitive to being touched, the therapist will work to desensitize the child over time to tactile stimulation. 

Direct parental involvement and participation is critical regardless of the specific therapeutic approach.  Handing off the child to a professional to be “fixed” is not acceptable.  The best first step is for parents to consult and to do research to determine the most effective approach for their child.

  There are no “cookie-cutter” recipes available.  The individual needs of the child are paramount.  A good starting point is the Autism Treatment Center of America (www.autismtreatmentcenter.org)

Dr. John Beltramo earned his B.A. from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a major in psychology.  He has a Master’s and Doctoral degree from Argosy University/Illinois School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Beltramo has worked in the behavioral health field in a variety of capacities for 18 years. From multiply-diagnosed, residentially-placed adolescents to domestic violence offenders to private practice settings, the range of his experience is broad, varied, and comprehensive.


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