Clinically reviewed by Claire Ellis, M.S., BCBA, LBA, National Director of Training & Development.
When a child participates in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, they are working toward specific goals, but they are also learning how to learn from their natural environment everyday. ABA therapy teaches them how to positively work with a teacher, sit and wait for instructions, and systems of positive and negative consequences associated with specific behaviors. These learned systems can help them potentially be productive learners in other types of therapy that support what they are learning during ABA therapy.
Other Therapies for Children with Autism
Some complementary therapies that many children who have autism also participate in are listed below. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a good snapshot of the other types of specialty services that are available to support children and families.
- Occupational therapy (OT): This type of therapy helps a child learn skills that improve play, learning, motor skills and self-care. Therapists work with the child to improve everyday skills that ultimately make activities like getting dressed, playing, using the bathroom and eating more streamlined as they occur in everyday life. OT therapy usually occurs in 30-minute or hour-long sessions, and the frequency depends on the child’s specific goals. OT therapies can also be included in a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at school, allowing them to receive OT therapy at no cost.
- Speech and language therapy: Therapy focused on speech skills helps a child improve and develop language abilities, wherever their current level may be. Nonverbal children benefit from speech therapy and can make incredible progress working one-on-one with a speech therapist. Speech and language therapy also helps a child better communicate their feelings, ultimately potentially improving how they interact with family members, classmates and others. Additionally, children are taught how to correctly name people and things in their everyday lives. Speech and language therapy can also be included in a child’s individualized education plan at school, making it possible to receive speech and language therapy at no cost.
- Physical therapy: Sometimes children with autism have trouble balancing, or need to build up their strength to improve posture and their motor skills. Physical therapy helps kids do that — which ultimately helps them play more seamlessly with other children. Skills like riding a bike, playing on a playground or kicking a soccer ball could be challenging for a child with autism. Physical therapists work with the child, the parents and the teachers, to incorporate skills from physical therapy into everyday interactions so that these experiences are possible. Children learn proper posture, build up their strength and improve balance with the exercises they do during physical therapy.
- Feeding therapy: It’s common for children with autism to be extremely selective with their food choices. That may mean that they will only eat a handful of foods, or only foods of a certain color. This restrictive behavior can be challenging for parents, and for some children, it can affect their health and/or ability to gain weight. If you are concerned about your child’s resistance to try foods, or ritualistic behaviors during mealtimes, speak with your pediatrician. They may recommend that you try feeding therapy for your child, which is when your child meets with a specialist who will help your child overcome those feeding challenges through therapy and exercises. They can also determine whether your child has mild to severe levels of a feeding disorder, and how you should consider treating it over time.
Sharing Your Child’s Progress
Acorn Health developed a proprietary tool to measure a child’s progress in ABA therapy called the Behavioral Health Index, or BHI. This tool can be shared with the child’s multidisciplinary team to inform them of the measurable progress they are making in ABA therapy. Our approach is open to coordinating and collaborating with other therapy professionals with shared clients, as we believe this results in the best outcomes for them.
Specifically, the BHI tool will measure and report:
- Critical skills
- Play skills
- Communication skills
- Behavior management
- Environmental factors (sleep, play, eat)
Therapy providers will appreciate the quantitative way they are able to stay updated on the child’s progress in ABA therapy while they help them work towards goals in other types of complementary therapy.
Scheduling Multiple Types of Therapy
When a family chooses ABA therapy for their child, they are committing time, effort and support. ABA therapy is typically 10-40 hours per week, depending on the child’s assessment and goals. Working other therapies like speech therapy or occupational therapy into a child’s schedule can be a challenge when so much of their time is spent in ABA therapy.
If your family is finding it challenging balancing a busy schedule, choose to prioritize the therapies where you are noticing the most progress with your child. It is more important that your child is able to consistently participate in therapy than to sign up for too many commitments they are not able to make. Cancellations should be avoided so that you can count on continuity of service. Large breaks in a schedule with therapy could mean your child loses some progress they may have made.
As children enter into preschool it’s possible that occupational therapy and speech therapy are built into their IEP, so they can become a part of their normal school day instead of being a separately occurring appointment, which can make it easier on families.
If you have questions about whether or not your child should pursue another type of therapy, speak with your pediatrician.
If you have questions about ABA therapy and how it may complement other types of therapy your child has already started, call us at 844-244-1818 to schedule your complimentary consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Which is Better OT or ABA?
Neither option is better per se. Occupational Therapy (OT) focuses on the medical side of things while ABA is more of a psychological discipline. OT uses self-motivation to encourage better behaviors while ABA is more rewards based.
Is CBT effective for autism?
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) has been proven effective for autism treatment.
How is CBT adapted for autism?
Suggested adaptations of CBT include the use of written and visual information, use of concrete language, inclusion of parents, shorter sessions, and more.