19131 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Treatments for Autism

    Behavior Programs

    There are many kinds of treatments for children with autism. Treatment often focuses on behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy includes a wide range of programs.

    Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

    ABA is a type of behavior program. It can be used in school, in a therapy setting, and at home. There are a number of different kinds of ABA programs. One is called discrete trial training (DTT). This is a structured method of teaching. It involves breaking a lesson down into steps, providing prompts so that the child does the task, and having consequences for the child’s performance. For example, if a task is done as instructed, then a reward is given.
    Other types of ABA programs include pivotal response training (PRT). This approach focuses on what motivates the child to learn. If the child chooses to play with a certain toy, then that choice can be used to teach a skill. For example, learning colors. PRT also involves teaching the child in "real" ways. For example, you might teach a child how to tie his or her shoe. Then, the reward could be to play outside, instead of giving him or her candy.
    Applied verbal behavior (VB) is another program. It involves helping the child gain verbal skills. The teacher breaks lessons down into small trials, gives prompts, and provides feedback to reinforce the desired behavior. The goal is to have the child use his or her verbal skills to communicate his or her needs.

    Other Programs

    In the school setting, there are other programs that may be used. The relationship-based developmental program is one example. This focuses on what developmental level the child is at, how the child is progressing emotionally, how the child responds to his or her environment, and what types of social relationships the child has.
    A program called "treatment and education of autistic and related communication-handicapped children" (or TEACCH) is also used in schools. In general, this involves a structured schedule. The schedule includes tasks that focus on certain skills. For example, verbal skills, social skills, and daily activities.
    For children with communication difficulties, there are alternative communication systems that can be taught, such as:
    • Picture exchange communication system—involves using pictures rather than words to communicate
    • Sign language—involves using hand signals rather than speech to communicate
    • Facilitated communication—involves helping a child to use a keyboard or another device to communicate
    In addition, there are sensory therapies that may help children with autism:
    • Occupational therapy
    • Sensory integration therapy—to help with organizing sensory information
    • Developmental optometry—to help with vision problems that are related to learning


    Medicines may be prescribed to help reduce some of the symptoms of autism. For example, antidepressants, like fluoxetine (Prozac). This may be used to reduce anxiety. Other medicines may be prescribed to treat serious behavior problems.


    Autism and communication. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website. Available at: http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/voice/autism.asp#3. Updated January 2003. Accessed September 11, 2008.

    Autism Connect. Methods and strategies: treatment and education of autistic and related communication handicapped children (TEACCH). Autism Connect website. Available at: http://www.autismconnectmd.org/education/methods/teach.html. Accessed September 16, 2010.

    Autism Society of America. Autism 101 course. Autism Society of America website. Available at: http://www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about%5Fcourse. Accessed June 15, 2010.

    Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-pervasive-developmental-disorders/index.shtml. Updated April 2008. Accessed September 11, 2008.

    Autism through the lifespan. Autism Society of America website. Available at: http://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/lifespan. Updated March 2008. Accessed September 11, 2008.

    AutismWeb. Autism teaching methods: applied behavior analysis and verbal behavior. AutismWeb website. Available at: http://www.autismweb.com/aba.htm. Accessed September 16, 2010.

    Behrman RE, Kliegman R, et al. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

    Benaron L. Pivotal response intervention model. DB Peds.org website. Available at: http://www2.aap.org/sections/dbpeds/index.asp?TextID=229. Updated October 25, 2004. Accessed September 16, 2010.

    Goetz CG. Goetz’s Textbook of Clinical Neurology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2007.

    Jacobson JL, Jacobson AM. Psychiatric Secrets. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Hanley & Belfus; 2001.

    Mayo Clinic. Autism: treatment and drugs. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/autism/DS00348/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs. Updated May 27, 2010. Accessed September 16, 2010.

    Midland County Educational Service Agency. Pivotal response training (PRT). Midland County Educational Service Agency website. Available at: http://www.mcesa.k12.mi.us/Documents/AI%20Tip%20sheets/Pivotal%20Response%20Training.pdf. Accessed September 16, 2010.

    Moore DP, Jefferson JW. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2004.

    Rapin I. An 8-year-old boy with autism. JAMA. 2001;285:1749-1757.

    Stern TA, et al. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2008.

    Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching. Discrete trial training. Texas Autism Resource Guide for Effective Teaching website. Available at: http://www.txautism.net/docs/Guide/Interventions/DTT.pdf. Accessed September 16, 2010.

    Wood D. Autism. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated October 2009. Accessed December 22, 2009.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.