Behavioral Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Early intervention by a team of specialists is critical for a child with autism spectrum disorder. This team may include a psychologist, a speech and language therapist, and an occupational or physical therapist. Through intensive treatment, these specialists can help your child to develop age-appropriate language, social, and behavior skills.

Most children with autism spectrum disorder benefit from targeted treatment of language deficits and behavior. This may include educational therapy, speech and language therapy, motor skills development, and play and socialization with peers. Early, intensive, and structured education can help children learn how to talk and communicate, play interactively, and care for themselves.

The expert clinicians at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center offer evidence-based behavioral treatments to children with autism spectrum disorder. Parents, family members, and caregivers can all be trained in these techniques. Consistent use of these behavioral interventions often produces the best results.

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Young children with autism spectrum disorder are often taught language, social, and other skills through the use of an intensive, one-on-one therapy called applied behavioral analysis. This treatment focuses on giving children short, simple tasks and then rewarding them when they successfully complete the task. 

This therapy is broken down into three small steps. First the therapist gives a clear instruction to the child and may provide a prompt by demonstrating or physically guiding the response. Next, the child responds by performing a behavior. Finally, the therapist demonstrates the consequence, which can include positive reinforcement, if the child has correctly performed the desired behavior, or no reaction, if the child has not responded as desired.

Specialists provide the child with many opportunities or trials in structured teaching situations and in the course of everyday activities. As the child progresses, the therapist systematically phases out the guidance and prompts, promoting his or her independence. As a child masters the steps, he or she learns to combine these in more complex ways and to practice them in more situations.

Therapists do not reinforce undesirable behaviors or those that interfere with learning and social skills. The goal of applied behavioral analysis is to reduce undesirable behaviors by removing the trigger from the child's environment. Positive reinforcement is used to teach the child different behaviors.

The experts at the Child Study Center can train you in the principles of applied behavioral analysis, so that you can continue this therapy at home with your child.

Pivotal Response Treatment

Doctors and specialists may also use pivotal response treatment, a play-based form of applied behavioral analysis. This therapy teaches children with autism spectrum disorder language. It can also lead to fewer disruptive behaviors and improve social, communication, and academic skills by placing emphasis on critical, or pivotal, behaviors that affect a wide range of other behaviors.

Pivotal behaviors for children with autism spectrum disorder include motivation and initiation of communication with others. The goal of this therapy is to produce positive changes in pivotal behaviors, leading to improvement in communication skills, play skills, and social behavior. 

Pivotal response treatment is typically conducted in the clinic as well as at home. The experts at the Child Study Center can help you to understand the principles of pivotal response treatment, so that you can continue this work at home. Everyone involved in the child’s life is encouraged to use these therapy methods consistently every day.

Early Start Denver Model

The Early Start Denver Model is an early intervention approach for children one to four years old. It aims to increase the rate of the child’s development in regard to social, emotional, cognitive, and language skills, while simultaneously reducing symptoms of autism. 

Trained therapists, parents, and family members perform this type of therapy in the clinic and at home during playtime and daily routines. The Early Start Denver Model is an evidence-based therapy that has been extensively researched and has been found to provide positive results.