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While the therapies listed below are likely familiar to families who’ve been raising children on the Autism spectrum for some time, they may be new to others. Other family members or well-meaning friends might hear loved ones talk about ABA, OT, PRT, etc., and be too intimidated or uncomfortable to ask exactly what these acronyms mean. Here are some common and widely practiced autism therapies you may not know about.

1. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the focus on reliable evaluation of behavior, then applying interventions to change that behavior.  This is the best known and most studied of all the behavioral methods.  The idea behind ABA is building a plan on the understanding of a behavior. This therapy has been widely regarded as the most effective for treating Autism, so many insurance providers have begun covering these programs.

2. Discreet Trial Training (DTT)
DTT is considered a sub-category of ABA.  It is a method of teaching with structured steps. This can be used for a multitude of setting up “learned behaviors”.  It is set up with therapist across from the child working one attempt after another over and over trying to get the right result.  Many times this will be a type of therapy run through the ABA agency.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is considered in the same category as ABA but is a more short term and less constrictive group of a classification of psychotherapies which relate feeling to behavior.  This can help a child to focus on a single goal and ask them to consider the feelings behind the action.  This is typically a therapy adopted when typical ABA strategies have not been successful, or in conjunction with ABA and other therapies.  Can be used for children dealing obsessive compulsive, anxiety and oppositional defiant disorder.

4. Developmental Individual-Differences in Relationship (DIR or Floortime)
Based on Stanley Greenspan’s program, the Floortime approach every child as an individual.  It is considered to be a play-based therapy.  The therapist is to follow the child’s lead, not deal with symptoms of behavior, but to build a foundation for the child.  While it’s been suggested that Floortime has an “unestablished level of evidence” of success, many believe that it the best way to engage with and build up the trust and confidence of a child.

5. Social Skills
Social skills therapies are often used in conjunction with ABA or Floortime.  Focusing on social interactions, typically with peers, is the focus of this program, aiming to build up skills toward understanding the breakdown of social cues. For example,  there are around 100 separate steps to walking into a small group who are already socializing.  How long do you hang to the outside to engage?  How long is too long?  If everyone is talking about the Lakers, do you talk about the Yankees?  Can you talk about the Clippers?  Social skills breaks these skills down and helps children problem solve these interactions.

6. Pivotal Response Therapy
Pivotal Response Therapy (PRT) is considered a more “natural” behavioral method.  It began at UCSB by Drs. Robert and Lynn Koegel.  It is a play based and child directed therapy based on motivation in communicating with others, creating a positive experience thus increasing the motivation.  Therapists are interested more in targeting “pivotal” areas instead of individual skills.  PRT attempts to create meaningful motivation for the child based in reality rather than a made-up reinforcement. Parent education is also a major focus.

7. Early Start Denver Model (ESDM)
Early Start Denver Model or ESDM is a relationship-based intervention usually implemented by 12-24 months of age. Therapists involve the child in routine activities and children learn skills in random environments rather than a specified location. The success of this program requires deep parental involvement and a shared engagement of joint activities. 

8. Occupational Therapy (OT)
Because OT deals with how people interpret and interact with the world and stimuli around them, OT is a perfect fit for helping people on the autism spectrum. OT can take place in a clinic, at home, at school, and just about anywhere. OT can help to increase attention span and focus, play skills, motor skills, and vestibular and proprioceptive input. Managing sensory input can be tremendously difficult for people on the autism spectrum and OT certainly helps to make sense of senses!


There are many, many different therapies that families use to help alleviate symptoms of Autism, and these are just 8! Thanks for joining me for a brief explanation of some terms you may have heard in passing but didn’t know much about!