There’s a wide range of support services to help manage autism and, if desired, address your child’s specific needs.
Autism is said to exist on a “spectrum” because there’s a wide variety of ways it can present from person to person. No two autistic people are alike.
If your child is autistic, you may consider support services, if desired or needed, to address any needs your child may have. Support services can include behavioral therapies, communication therapies, or a combination of these.
Read on to learn more about the different support options for autism.
A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) typically includes a comprehensive evaluation from a psychologist or developmental pediatrician.
Your child’s pediatrician may also recommend a series of tests, including DNA testing for genetic conditions and visual and auditory tests.
After a diagnosis is made, you may feel overwhelmed and not really sure what to do next or where to begin. You’re not alone. Many parents feel this way.
Here’s a look at some things you can do after diagnosis to prepare for next steps.
1. Do your research
Researching your options is a necessary part of the process.
When gathering information about the various options available, learn as much as you can. Take notes. Look at all the options, and make a decision based on the specific needs of your child. Don’t worry about what others are doing.
What are your child’s specific challenges and strengths? Write down your answers, and bring them to your child’s next doctor’s visit.
2. Talk with a healthcare professional
Consulting with your pediatrician will help guide your next steps after diagnosis.
Put together a list of questions to ask your pediatrician ahead of time so you can make sure you get all the info you need.
Some questions to consider asking after diagnosis include:
- Does my child need any support services? If so, how much, and what kinds of support do you recommend?
- What kinds of therapies or care will be most beneficial for my child?
- Will my child need to see any specialists? If so, will I need a referral?
- Is there support available to families of autistic children?
- Where can I get more information?
- What types of support will my child benefit from at home and school?
3. Find local support
There are likely programs and resources in your area that may provide additional help and support for you and your child.
The Autism Society has local and state partners that provide information, referral services, and education.
You can call or visit schools in your area to see the type of programs they offer. You can also inform them of your child’s diagnosis.
If your child has difficulty with behaviors or learning at school, talk with your pediatrician about getting a psychoeducation evaluation for your child. This evaluation can determine if they’re eligible for supportive services.
If you need help advocating for your child’s needs in school, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund can offer guidance.
4. Prepare for early intervention
Early speech or behavioral interventions can help children (from birth to 3 years old) learn self-care as well as social and communication skills. These services help create fundamental skills, such as talking and communicating with others.
Some early intervention programs may include the following services:
- speech therapy
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
- social or behavioral therapy
- individual psychotherapy (talk therapy)
- family therapy
Your child’s doctor will help you find the right specialist based on your child’s needs.
5. While you wait
There may be a long wait — weeks or sometimes months — before you’re able to get an appointment with a specialist or begin support services.
This can be frustrating, but there are some things you can do while you wait:
- Learn more about services available in your area.
- Gather more information about your child’s development or behavior.
- Know what to expect at your appointment, and be prepared with questions.
6. Get your family involved
Autistic children may think, communicate, and experience the world differently than neurotypical (nonautistic) people.
Families play an important role in the development and well-being of children, autistic or not. Understanding more of their lived experience and being open to learning about autism can help your autistic family member — as well as the whole family — thrive.
Some autistic people experience
Families can be aware of this phenomenon and keep a lookout to help prevent it from happening in their loved one.
Some families seek family training to learn therapy techniques they can use at home with their child to reinforce and build on skills they’re learning in therapy.
Family members may benefit from their own therapeutic support, too. Supporting an autistic child may bring about a host of emotional challenges. It’s important for caregivers to take care of themselves as well.
Support services range from autistic child to autistic child. Every autistic person has their own set of behavioral and cognitive differences.
Support services can help build language and other communication skills. They can provide tools to help manage behavior and improve social skills.
Medications for autism aren’t intended to “cure” autism. Rather, medications are sometimes prescribed to help manage certain conditions that commonly coexist with autism, such as:
- gastrointestinal issues
- high and low energy levels
If your child’s pediatrician prescribes medication for your child, monitor your child’s progress while they’re taking it. Watch for side effects and behavior changes. If anything concerns you, reach out to your pediatrician.
Want to know more? Look here for an in-depth look at medications for autism.
Behavioral training and management
Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is a commonly used therapy that involves using various approaches and techniques to develop new skills and behavior while reducing harmful behaviors.
It measures and tracks a child’s progress using positive-behavior reinforcement by offering a reward for completion of a task or positive behavior, like verbal praise, tokens, or food. Negative and disruptive behaviors are ignored or discouraged.
Though ABA has become more common in recent years, there are criticisms surrounding the methods and the way this therapy is used by some medical professionals.
To make sure your child is receiving the support they need, choose a qualified therapist you trust and who’s a good fit for you and your family’s needs.
There are several types of ABA, including:
Discrete trial training
This technique teaches each individual step of a desired behavior or response.
Breaking down lessons into simple parts while getting positive reinforcement when each step is accomplished may help the child make gains more readily.
Positive reinforcement is used to reward correct answers and behaviors.
Early intensive behavioral intervention
This intervention can help build communication skills and reduce disruptive behaviors. It’s usually done over the course of several years. Children generally younger than 3 years old work with a therapist one-on-one or in a group setting.
Pivotal response training
This strategy stimulates motivation to learn. It encourages the child to monitor their own behavior and learn to communicate with others. Improvements on these issues should have positive effects on other behaviors.
Verbal behavior intervention
This therapy focuses on teaching verbal skills.
The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based approach, also known as Floortime, focuses on having the child interact with other children and parents through play.
It highlights feelings and relationships with caregivers as well as how the child copes with sounds, sights, and smells.
Social skills training
Social skills training focuses on developing social skills.
It teaches children how to interpret:
- eye contact
- tone or inflection
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
It can help people recognize emotional triggers for negative behaviors and change those thoughts to better cope in particular situations.
Anxiety is a common condition associated with autism. A small 2015 study showed that CBT may help manage anxiety.
Occupational therapy teaches life skills needed in everyday life, such as bathing, eating, and dressing.
This therapy also often includes motor skills and handwriting skills.
Sensory integration therapy
Sensory integration therapy helps a child learn to process sensory information in a more manageable way. This therapy may be helpful for a child who has touch or audio sensitivities.
Speech therapy can help improve a child’s communication skills. It teaches verbal communication skills and communication using gestures or picture boards.
Assistive technology uses devices to help autistic children with limited communication abilities express themselves verbally.
The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a type of assistive technology that uses picture symbols as a way to communicate.
Picture symbols are used to stimulate questions and answers, and have a conversation.
There are a number of alternative approaches some people try to help manage autism. These approaches, also known as complementary and alternative medicine, are often used in addition to traditional ones.
Some alternative approaches for managing autism include:
- chelation therapy
- weighted blankets
- omega-3 fatty acids
- relaxation techniques
- gluten-free, casein-free diet
There’s not enough research to support these methods, though. It’s not clear if they even work.
If you’re interested in trying complementary therapies, work closely with your child’s pediatrician to determine your options.
The following autism organizations and resources may be great places to find support and connect with other autistic people:
Each autistic child and adult has their own set of strengths and challenges, just like anyone else.
If desired, a number of supportive services can help address any of your child’s specific needs.
Work closely with a healthcare professional to find the right options for you and your family.