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Autism Q&A

Therapies & Mental Health

August 8th, 2020


For For Caregivers; Autistic Adults

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

It’s important to take some time to learn about what services are available so you can make informed choices about what is best for you and/or your family. The list below is not inclusive of all available options, but it will help you become familiar with common therapies and service providers. 

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 therapist 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 behavior 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 build motivation and teach 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.

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 and is currently recommended as a standard early intervention for those with an autism diagnosis. 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, 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. 


Mental Health 

A short list of mental health resources in BC. 

Additional Resources for finding Service Providers 

Registry of Autism Service Providers (RASP). 

Aboriginal Supported Child Development


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