Treatments and Interventions

A number of different intervention types exist that may help reduce symptoms. When evaluating different options, look for treatments or interventions that work better for an individual and the family as a whole. Make sure that everybody will be able to follow the steps required by the intervention for it to work effectively.

Below, we list best practices within the medical and educational settings, research-based interventions, and how to determine which option or options may be best for your family. This not a complete list of all available treatments, nor is it a list of suggested treatments; rather, the information below is designed to help provide you with general ideas related to the various treatments available for individuals with ASD.

Before making any decisions about any treatment, the providers and family involved in an individual’s care should work together to determine the most appropriate intervention for the individual and family. See the Questions to Ask Your Provider for more information.

Why Choose Evidence-Based Practices?

“Evidence-based” means that there is strong evidence has been established by researchers that the treatment is effective. This evidence has been demonstrated by repeated studies. The National Autism Center’s National Standards Project (NSP; 2007) categorizes various treatment options based on the level of scientific evidence. Reference this tool when considering treatment options.

See also from FPG Institute: Evidence-Based Practices for Children, Youth, and Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Access NSP

Intervention Options

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a research-based philosophy of working with individuals of different abilities, not just individuals with ASD. ABA encompasses a range of strategies and methods based on standard behavioral principles designed to address reduction of behaviors by encouraging positive or desired behaviors and discouraging negative or unwanted behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills. Behaviors are considered to be a form of communication that can be addressed by teaching appropriate skills to support the reduction of undesired behaviors across settings. Examples of ABA methods include, but are not limited to:

  • Discrete Trial Training: Teaching an individual one particular skill through repeated trials
  • Incidental Teaching: Creating a learning environment based on an individual’s interests or motivations
  • Pivotal Response Training: Focusing on positive changes in key behaviors to positively affect other behaviors
  • Social Stories™ (Carol Gray): Using words and/or pictures to describe what to do in various situations that may challenge or provoke anxiety within an individual.

Structured teaching involves setting up an individual’s environment for success by using structure (e.g., physical structure, visual structure, visual schedules, work systems) to lend organization, predictability and understanding of expectations.  The structured teaching method is designed to capitalize on strengths of individuals with ASD, minimize their challenges and support independence. Structured teaching originated at the TEACCH Program at the University of North Carolina. Structured Teaching (TEACCH; SCHOPLER)

Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS; BONDY AND FROST)

The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, is designed to improve an individual’s ability to expressively communicate through the use of pictures representing language or concepts. The individual is systematically and gradually taught the expectation for exchange of a picture to communicate and interact with others.  As the system is utilized, additional picture cards are added as appropriate and the complexity of the communications can be increased.  This low tech communication system can be utilized to promote functional communication as an alternative to negative behaviors and in combination with and/or to promote verbal or other communications as well.  

Verbal Behavior Analysis (VBA; SKINNER)

Verbal Behavior Analysis utilizes DTT methods to specifically focus on and teach verbal skills. Individuals are taught to use appropriate words when motivated to make it clear to the individual that communication has a function and to help individuals learn the right words to use within a given context. 

Unestablished treatment options also exist and may be explored in more detail using credible resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionthe National Autism Center’s National Standards ProjectNational Institute of Health, and medical providers in your area.