By Jenny Young
Autism is a disorder that often results in individuals lacking communication, connections with their emotions, and more. For most children with autism, the signs of autism begin to show by the time they are eight to ten months old. There are many types of therapy that someone with autism can go through to help alleviate the difficulties that individuals with autism face. For each individual, it may be different, depending on each one’s needs and how the autism affects that individual. The goals of all autism therapy programs are generally the same: to encourage the child to learn, communicate, interact with others, and become more independent. The variation in each program comes in the approach and how they go about achieving these goals.
One method of therapy is the Lovaas Method. It is a behavioral treatment that is typically for children between the ages of two to eight. The Lovaas Method uses each child’s needs and implements them into the therapy. This model of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has undergone extensive research. Each instructor and parent in the program are told to focus on certain things. Positive interactions, motivation, promote success, parental involvement, learn/encourage to request things, vocal language, learning to imitate, and cooperative play is all key parts of each child’s growing process under the Lovaas Method. The program the children go through depends a lot on their age. Children who begin the program before the age of three starts at about 10-15 hours of treatment each week and work their way up to about 35-40 hours of therapy each week. This way of working into the treatment is helpful for the child and allows time for adjusting. The focus at this point in the child’s life is just interactive play. The instructors attempt to work with the child as much as they can at this point. They attempt to let the child lead them, assisting and working in lessons of communication, both verbal and non-verbal. As the child grows, structured time is slowly integrated into the program.
When the child is ready, about ages three to five, he transitions over to one-on-one time with an instructor. This happens for five to eight hours, five to seven days a week. At this time, they divide the day into two to four-hour sessions to make the time spent with the instructor more productive and make the day easier on the child. The goal of this time is to teach a child to learn in a typical learning environment. This part of the program helps children become comfortable forming answers to questions, starting with one word and working their way up to a few sentences. The final thing taught in this section of the therapy is thought to be one of the most important factors for a child to learn as he prepares to go to school: making friends and learning in a group. The final stage is assistance as needed. The children continue to refine skills they learned in earlier stages. They may have more outings and learn to apply their skills in these places. The main goal of this final part of therapy is to improve the overall quality of life for the child and the family. This model of treatment and its effectiveness have been studied by Dr. Ivar Lovaas for over forty years.
There are many types of therapy that are derived from this idea of Applied Behavior Analysis Treatment. Some of them include Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) and Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). The Pivotal Response Treatment is based on approaching the child’s key areas of development. They hope that by targeting these areas, it will create broad improvements in the child as a whole. The Early Starter Model is for younger children, ages twelve to forty-eight months. The program is generally the same as Lovass just for younger children and with a large amount of parental involvement.
The alternate approach to the Lovaas or Applied Behavior Analysis method is the Greenspan Floortime Approach. This system was created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. This system is focused on building a relationship and meeting the child where they are in life. The child’s strengths and weaknesses are assessing and their strength is built upon. The Floortime Approach tries to help the child grow as a person and as an individual. They try to teach the child that he is more than a diagnosis or a disease, but rather an individual. The three main instructions for Floortime are to: “follow your child’s lead, challenge them to be creative and be themselves, and expand their actions to include all their sense, motor skills, and emotions”. This approach is instructed by therapists and parents. Parents can take the course and get information on how best to help their child. Floortime is recommended to be conducted in a calm place for the child. This space may be in a professional setting or at home, and a child may have a parent of a professional therapist as their instructor for this time. Professional therapy normally takes place for about two to five hours each day. As the child grows and progresses in the program, their needs and ways of addressing the therapy will change. The Floortime Approach falls under the Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) plan which is a treatment idea created by Steven Gutstein who’s theory is that “dynamic intelligence is key to improving the quality of life for individuals with autism”.
Overall, therapy for individuals with autism is plentiful. There are many different kinds of treatment and the kind of treatment each individual needs can be tailored to fit just right for them. The goal of all autism therapy is to improve the quality of life for the individual, to help him learn to communicate, learn, play, interact, and grow as a person.