Which Autism Therapy Is Right for My Child?

Line Up Cars (2)
Line Up Cars (2). Getty

With so many available options for autism therapy, how do you choose the one or two that are right for your child?  While there is rarely one correct answer, here are some questions to consider as you make your decisions.

  1. Which therapies work?  This is not an easy question to answer.  Yes, it's possible to point to lots of studies that say various therapies are successful in certain ways for certain people over certain periods of time -- but are they likely to work well for your child for the long term?  That said, there is a short list of tried and true approaches there are most likely to be successful in helping a child with autism to communicate, learn, and engage
  1. Which therapies will meet your particular child's needs?  It's fine to say that ABA "works" for children with autism, but does your child with autism really need ABA?  If his issues relate largely to sensory challenges, and he's really pretty verbal and engaged, then ABA may not be your highest priority.
  2. Which therapies does your child enjoy?  There's no doubt that a child with autism needs therapy.  And of course there will be times when therapy is no fun.  But there are many therapies that can be both effective and enjoyable for your child -- particularly when they are implemented by a talented therapist, or by a therapist that simply "gets" your child.  You certainly don't want your child to suffer through childhood -- so make his or her feelings an important part of your decision-making process.
  3. Which therapies are a good match for your personal philosophy and lifestyle?  There's no cure for autism, so there is no therapy that you MUST choose in order to give your child a shot at a full, rich life.  Often, the best therapeutic choice for a child with autism is the therapeutic choice that her parents can support, engage in, and pay for.  Some therapies, including Floortime and RDI, require a great deal of parent engagement -- which is great for some families, but impossible for others.  Some therapies are implemented by experts in the home; others are provided at a clinic or in school.  Which therapeutic options can you really support over time?
  1. Which therapies are available locally or online?  Not every therapy is universally available, and quite a few are only available in major metropolitan areas.  A very few can be accessed online.  If you're not ready to move your family or spend your life community, you may have to decide against certain options.
  1. Which therapies can you afford?  Even very good private or public health insurance supports only a handful of autism therapies.  Even therapies that have been researched and found to be successful (Sensory Integration, RDI, Floortime, etc.) are not paid for by insurance companies.  Therapists can charge upwards of $150 per hour.  Therapies such as hyperbaric chambers or auditory integration are even pricier.  What can you really afford without mortgaging your body parts?
  2. Which therapies are available through your school district?  While you may have physical access to a particular therapy, your school district may not support or supply it.  Most schools do provide speech, occupational therapy, and physical therapy (if prescribed); many provide social skills teaching, and some offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Very, very few offer therapies such as Sensory Integration, Floortime, RDI, vision therapy, etc.  If your school does not provide the therapy of your choice, you have the option of paying for it out of pocket (few insurers support out-of-the-ordinary therapies) and driving your child to a therapist.  If you have the time and money to support those therapies, that's great; otherwise they may not be an option.

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