An Overview of Intervention Strategies for Individuals with Autism
The most effective treatment for autism to date is education and intervention. There are several intervention styles available for those on the spectrum. The styles of therapy are diversified to address the different needs that are presented in many autism cases. Therapies are different for each client. Many therapeutic plans involve the development of an individual behavior or education plan that specifically caters to each client. The intervention strategies are grouped according to treatment goals and spectrum orientation.
Floortime therapy was developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan in 1979. Dr. Greenspan advocated a child-led approach. As a play-based therapy, floortime intervention pairs child directed, preferred activities with learning tasks or intentional target goals. Floortime addresses the deficits that children on the spectrum demonstrate in reciprocal relationships, environmental engagement and communication quality. Floortime therapy involves six stages of integration in a one-on-one setting. Emotional awareness and stages of bonding are especially emphasized in floortime therapy.
In the first stage of floortime therapy, the focus is on establishing an emotional bond with the child. Once the child has demonstrated a level of comfort with the therapist, the focus is transferred to joint attention. Joint attention refers to the pre-communicative ability to track and follow the focus of another person. This is a noted deficit for children on the spectrum. It is also a key link to social skill and communication development.
The second stage of floortime therapy further explores joint attention by encouraging the child’s interest in other people. The specific bond is centered more on the child’s primary caregiver than the therapist. Shared smiles, engagement in child-led preferred activities and joint attention are specifically addressed during this phase.
The third stage of floortime therapy deepens the interactions between the child and the parent or caregiver. Sharing referred activities, exchanging laughs and turn-taking are all components of this mid-level phase of therapy.
The fourth stage extends the communication exchange to emotional expression. Emotions are differentiated and modeled appropriately. Play time and problem solving are incorporated into preverbal language.
Stage five of floortime provides deeper levels of communication for the child. Basic communication is required for basic exchanges. To attain developmental equality with his or her peers, the child must have a medium for communicating thoughts, ideas and impressions.
The final stage establishes logic and functional reasoning for the child. Children on the spectrum typically display a deficit in communication and social skill development. They must be taught these skills in order to be successful learners in other areas.
Another popular therapy for clients with autism is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA therapy is the only fully research-backed intervention available for clients with autism. It is versatile for use with children as well as adults. While floortime therapy addresses the internal structures of a person with autism, such as their emotions and perceptions, ABA addresses the external factors, such as environment and reinforcement. ABA does not seek to alter the personhood of the client with autism. ABA manipulates the environment of the person with autism in order to create teaching opportunities.
In ABA therapy, the service provider will restrict access to preferred items or activities in order to produce desired pro-social behaviors or communication efforts from the client with autism. Preferred items and activities are structured in a layered regiment with non-preferred activities, such as hygiene or appropriate communication. Staggering these preferred items or activities to immediately follow the non-preferred (but desired) skill or activity reinforces their successful completion.
ABA therapists seek to promote functional communication, pro-social behavior and independence for their clients. They take regular data to describe the changes in the behavior of the client as they coincide with the changes made to the environment of the client.
Each intervention strategy has value for the client with autism. Many clients receive both types of services at various stages of development. These therapies drastically improve the opportunities and quality of life for the client with autism.