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Understanding Autism: What Parents Should Know About Diagnosis and Behavioral Therapies that Work

behavioral therapies with a teacher and boy with autism

In the realm of child development, autism has received a lot of attention lately. And yet, autism spectrum disorder has been in the books for several decades. The precise origins and causes of autism in children are still undergoing research and investigation. However, experts found effective ways to help children that are on the spectrum have full and productive lives. This often leads to them reaching high levels of success through behavioral therapies and early interventions. 

So what do you need to know as a parent? How do you tackle the many unknowns associated with autism? 

Let’s explore some options. 

Learning About Autism, Your Child, and What to Look For 

As a disclaimer, our posts should never be taken as medical advice or substituted for proper medical diagnoses. That being said, let’s explore some of the information out there.

What is Autism?

In recent years, people seem to have encountered the term much more frequently, it doesn’t mean that it is new. In the early 20th century, the word “autism” had emerged in the medical realm to describe a type of schizophrenia. The term’s definition slowly shifted. By the 1940s was used to describe what child psychiatrist Leo Kanner described children that were highly intelligent but sought to be alone and had “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.” It was around the same time that Hans Asperger, a German scientist, described what came to be known as a milder form of autism characterized by difficulties in social situations. 

In the 1980s, infantile autism was listed for the first time in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Research begins to indicate that autism might be a result of biological differences in brain development. Regardless of ongoing research at this point, much was still a mystery. 

Public Awareness and Understanding of Autism 

In the early 80s, most parents battled autism alone and had very little public support—as many members of the public were not aware of the condition. However, as some autism experts note, the 1988 film with Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman made the condition a household name. Whether the film’s portrayal of autism has been — in the long term— positive or negative is somewhat debated (some say it limited the idea of what autism was, others say it provided a valuable insight into the condition). There is no question that the highly successful film gave the general public an introduction to the condition. 

Behavioral Therapies and Interventions for Children with Autism 

Any child diagnosed with autism have resources available for them and their family. In that case, there is tremendous hope for behavioral therapies that foster child development—both in the clinic and at home— to reduce unwanted behaviors and improve your child’s interactions with the world. 

The National Institute of Health characterizes behavioral management for autism as therapy that reinforces wanted behaviors and reduces unwanted behaviors. Clinicians use applied behavior analysis as the accepted approach to measuring a child’s progress in improving skills. 

Some of the most common types of behavioral therapies for children with autism include:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): This research approach has been used for about 50 years and has seen well-researched results. The approach is based on teaching life skills via play, communication, self-care, and academic improvement. It focuses on reducing problematic behavior. This approach might often be the launching pad for most children that exhibit symptoms early, as it aims to address behaviors that might hinder a child’s development or social interaction. 
  • Verbal Behavioral Therapy (VBT): This approach is geared more towards children whose symptoms manifest in their communication skills. It aims to teach non-vocal children purposeful communication. 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy can be effective for children with milder symptoms. With CBT, the therapist focuses on finding the triggers to the unwanted behaviors and helps the child recognize both the triggers and the unwanted behaviors. This form of therapy will be very effective for children who suffer from anxiety or frequent bouts of fearful behavior. 

The Challenge of Behavioral Therapies & How to Overcome Them

It comes as no surprise that every child is different, and it is difficult to tell right off the bat what kind of behavioral therapy (and to what degree) will benefit a specific child. Research suggests that children who receive ongoing behavioral therapy, however, are more likely to outgrow the diagnoses, even if it means spending more time away from regular classrooms or children’s activities in the beginning. Parents often worry that separating their children too much will prevent them from regular interactions. Working with skilled behavioral therapists and forging a strong relationship is essential to finding the right balance for your child. 

So, as parents embark on the therapy journey consider:

  • To be flexible and open to changing approaches 
  • Be able to adjust to new indicators 
  • Monitoring progress and taking note of what works and doesn’t
  • To be persistent, patient, and understanding 

Much of the work done in the clinic with behavioral therapy is also continued at home, as parents learn to enhance their child’s learning, strengthen relationships with siblings, teach communication, and extend the learning to their everyday lives. 

Continuing Research and Tools for Parents

If you suspect your child might have autism, the best place to start is your trusted primary care physician. It is in a trusted setting with trusted medical professionals that parents can begin the important conversations of learning about their child’s condition and what works best for them. New research, approach, and tools are constantly emerging in the field of autism research to help parents provide the best care and therapy for their children. 

In mid-2021, for example, the FDA approved a specialized device that assists with the accurate diagnosis of autism. It is a software program that collects vast amounts of data from caregivers, parents, and primary care physicians to assess a child’s chances of autism.

Begin With the Right Care and Give Your Child the Support They Need

Here at Pasitos Clinic, we specialize in behavioral therapy to assist children with various conditions. We frequently work with children with autism and help the entire family learn how to better support, interact, and foster the development of their loved ones. 

Call Pasitos Clinic today and learn more. 


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