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Autism Q&A

What are some common Therapies for Autistic Children?

January 8th, 2024


For Caregivers, Autistic Adults

There are a wide variety of therapies available for people with an autism diagnosis.

It’s important to educate yourself on the different types of therapies for autistic children and youth available so that you can make the best decision for your family. While the following list is not exhaustive, it will give you an idea of the types of service providers and therapies for autistic children and youth.

When choosing therapies for autistic children and youth, consider the following to build a quality therapy support program:
  • It should TEACH and SUPPORT not train
  • Language should be around supporting assent vs. compliance or non-compliance
  • Behaviours should not be viewed as problems, but rather as DISTRESSED / ACTIVATED. Behaviour is communication
  • Feedback should be viewed as positive and supportive
  • Feedback should be corrective not a punishment
  • Language around behaviours should be viewed as TRIGGERS
  • Focus on prevention first vs. responding to distress
  • It is NOT a cookie-cutter program but rather should be individualized and reflect the needs of each child.
  • Should include a list of GOALS to target and be updated regularly
  • It should reflect everyone’s skills, needs, interests and family goals
  • Involves supportive feedback and identification of motivation
  • Identifies a child/client’s VALUES
  • Includes teaching in the NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
  • Parents/family members should all understand the principles of the therapy and how they apply to their child
  • Should include PARENT COACHING
  • Your child should NOT be forced to comply – ASSENT first
  • Regular team meetings should be occurring, and professionals should be collaborating
  • GENERALIZATION – skills should move outside of a therapeutic setting and be ensured they can be applied in general life settings
  • Your child should be HAPPY and have CONNECTION and A RELATIONSHIP with their support team
Who are these providers and what do they do?

Linking up providers to your child’s strengths and support needs:

  • Communication needs—Speech & Language Pathologist
  • Gross motor Skills/Fine Motor Skills or physical development—Physiotherapist, Chiropractor
  • Fine Motor Skills/Sensory needs—Occupational Therapist
  • Emotional/Mental Health Support—Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Counsellor, Therapist, Play Therapist, Life coach
  • Emotional/Self Regulation—Music Therapy, Horseback riding Therapy, Art Therapy, Animal Therapy, mindfulness, or relaxation therapies (Craniosacral therapy), Behaviour Therapy
  • Social Support—Social Groups, RDI (Relationship Development Intervention), Social Stories
  • Life Skills—1:1 support worker (or a behaviour Interventionist—BI)
  • Pharmacological Approaches—There is no medication for the core characteristics of Autism. Medications that support hyperactivity and focus (ADHD), Or anti-anxiety or anti-depressant meds > Paediatrician or Child Psychiatrist


The image shows a group of people playing with cards. There is a person wearing clothing and a toddler involved in the activity. A baby, a boy, and a child are also present in the scene, they could be autistic or not. The setting appears to be indoors and conducting therapies.
Your child should be HAPPY and have CONNECTION and A RELATIONSHIP with their support team

List of Therapies for Autistic Children

Speech & Language Pathology (SLP) 

An SLP assesses, diagnoses, and treats communication and swallowing differences in children and adults. You may be interested in SLP services for: 

  • Articulation difficulties 
  • Delayed or absent speech 
  • Receptive language, difficulties understanding and processing language 
  • Expressive language, difficulties using language to communicate 
  • Oral feeding: Struggles with chewing, swallowing, gagging etc. 
  • Apraxia: difficulty moving muscles/structures necessary for speech 

Occupational Therapy (OT) 

Occupational Therapy is a health and rehabilitation profession. An OT can assess, diagnose, and create treatment plans for sensory, motor, cognitive, social, or communication needs. You may be interested in OT services for: 

  • Gross motor skills: balance, coordination, core strength, whole-body movement 
  • Fine motor skills: any task relying on the muscles in the hands 
  • Attention span and stamina 
  • Transitioning between activities and places 
  • Understanding and accommodating sensory needs 
  • Coping strategies for understanding and managing emotions 
  • Developmental activities for daily living and self-care 

Physical Therapy (PT) 

Physical Therapy is for the preservation, enhancement, or restoration of movement and physical function. It utilizes therapeutic exercise, physical modalities (such as massage and electrotherapy), assistive devices, and patient education and training. You may be interested in PT services for: 

  • Developing muscle tone/motor skills 
  • Improving posture and addressing misalignments 
  • Neck pain and low back pain 
  • Problems with balance or mobility 
  • Chronic fatigue and weakness 
  • Fitness and wellness education 
  • Respiratory problems and/or poor cardiovascular endurance 
  • Knee, ankle, and foot problems


Relationship Development Intervention — RDI

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) is a family-based, behavioral therapy. It focuses on building social and emotional skills. Parents are trained as the primary therapists in most RDI programs. RDI helps people with autism form personal relationships by strengthening the building blocks of social connections. This includes the ability to form an emotional bond and share experiences with others.

Objectives of RDI:
  1. Emotional Referencing: the ability to learn from the emotional and subjective experiences of others
  2. Social Coordination: the ability to observe and control behaviour to successfully participate in social relationships
  3. Declarative Language: the ability to use language and non-verbal communication to express curiosity, invite others to interact, share perceptions and feelings and coordinate your actions with others
  4. Flexible Thinking: the ability to adapt and alter plans as circumstances change
  5. Relational Information Processing: the ability to put things into context and solve problems that lack clear-cut solutions and have no “right and wrong” solutions
  6. Foresight and Hindsight: the ability to think about past experiences and anticipate future possibilities based on past experiences

RDI involves a step-by-step approach to building motivation and teaching skills. The teaching plan is based on the child’s current age and ability level.  The parent or therapist uses a set of step-by-step, developmentally appropriate goals

The initial goal is to build a “guided participation” relationship between parents and child, with the child as a “cognitive apprentice.” Once this relationship is in place, the family advances through a series of developmental goals for their child. The goal of this process is to improve “neural connectivity,” or brain function.

What is a Behaviour Consultant or BCBA?

A Behaviour Consultant works with families and other service providers to address challenging behaviours and teach adaptive skills to children, youth and adults. Their primary goal is to improve the quality of life of the individual and those who care for him/her by facilitating durable changes in socially significant behaviours.

A Board Certified Behaviour Analyst supervises the Behaviour consultant and or Behaviour Interventionists

BCBA Responsibilities May Include:

Working collaboratively with families and other team members in the consultative process to support the child/youth or adult in achieving identified goals.

This process includes the following:
  • Assessment of problem behaviour and identification of skills to teach
  • Fluency in functional assessment procedures is essential (indirect, direct and experimental methods).
  • Developing and writing behaviour support plans
  • Providing competency-based training to families, caregivers and other team members to augment their skills when directly supporting the child/youth or adult.
  • Monitoring progress through ongoing data collection and adjusting support plan as required.
  • Providing team members with relevant teaching and support material.
  • Maintaining regular contact with referring agents, families and service providers they are serving.
  • Completing necessary reports that indicate the identified goals and progress made.


What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)? 

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is a scientific approach attempting to change behaviour by assessing the functional relationship between a targeted behaviour and the environment. ABA is used in a variety of different learning fields, it is often mistakenly only thought of as synonymous with autism therapy.

ABA encompasses many types of instruction such as: 

  • Early intensive behavioural intervention(EIBI) is often recommended for children younger than five. It involves an intensive, individualized curriculum designed to teach communication, social interaction, and functional and adaptive skills. 
  • Discrete Trial Training(DTT) aims to teach skills through structured task completion and rewards. 
  • Pivotal Response Training  lets your child take the lead in a learning activity. The therapist can offer a few choices based on specific skills. 
  • Early Start Denver Model(ESDM) involves play-based activities that incorporate several goals at once. 
  • Verbal behaviour interventions aim to help children increase their verbal communication skills.

Additional Resources for Finding Service Providers 

Registry of Autism Service Providers (RASP). 

Aboriginal Supported Child Development

Neurodiversity Affirming Supports


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