8 Types of Therapy for Autism To Consider

Want to know what the most effective types of therapy for autism are? Read on for a comprehensive guide.

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
November 9, 2023

8 Types of Therapy for Autism To Consider

Looking For The Best Types Of Therapy For Autism?

There are many questions that come to mind when your child is evaluated and diagnosed with autism.

For example, you may be wondering about the different treatments used to improve your child's quality of life.

Many autistic children participate in therapy sessions to improve communication, socialization and emotional development.

The following guide explores the different types of therapy for autism and how to choose the right autism therapy for your child.

8 Types of Therapy for Autism

There are at least eight types of therapy for autism. The treatments are broken down into categories such as behavioral, developmental and educational therapies.

  1. ABA therapy
  2. Speech therapy
  3. Occupational therapy
  4. Play therapy
  5. DIR-Floortime
  6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  7. Music therapy
  8. Art therapy

1. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Therapy

ABA therapy uses positive reinforcement to show children how actions and consequences are connected. Children are rewarded for positive behavior, such as asking for help or completing a task. They receive their reward right after demonstrating the behavior.

Children do not receive a reward for negative behavior, but the behavior is ignored instead of punished in contemporary ABA therapy.

The teaching styles of ABA therapy are Discrete Trial Teaching and Pivotal Response Training.

Discrete Trial Teaching

In Discrete Trial Teaching, therapists break the lessons down into smaller tasks using a cue-and-response structure. Their goal is to focus on one task at a time until the child masters it. Your child is rewarded once they complete the task.

Pivotal Response Training

Pivotal Response Training focuses on improving areas of a child's development, such as motivation, self-management, social interactions and their response to multiple cues.

The three elements of this style are the development of communication skills, increasing positive behavior and decreasing harmful self-stimulating behaviors.

While ABA therapy had negative reception years ago, the guidelines for this therapy have been updated to ensure patients are treated with respect, dignity and compassion.

Nowadays, ABA therapy is designed to meet a child's individual needs rather than with a one-size-fits-all technique.

2. Speech and Language Therapy

Some autistic children have communication problems, such as grunting, babbling, inexpressive tones or not speaking at all. They may also have difficulty with conversational skills, understanding meanings or creative language.

A child with communication problems may benefit from speech-language therapy, which is a common type of developmental therapy.

Your child's speech therapist guides them through exercises that help them to identify people and items, describe their feelings and improve their speech rhythm.

The goal of speech-language therapy is to determine how their communication skills need improvement, from enhancing sentence structure to expressing their feelings.

Children who are non-verbal or have severe communication problems may be introduced to alternatives such as signing, typing, pictures and electronic devices.

3. Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is essential to helping autistic children develop and enhance the skills they need for daily tasks at home and in school. For example, an occupational therapist may teach children how to dress, groom and feed themselves.

Additionally, occupational therapy also includes physical therapy and sensory integration therapy.

Physical therapy helps to improve their balance, coordination and muscle control.

Sensory integration therapy helps children to improve their response to overwhelming or restrictive situations, such as a crowded supermarket. Those situations are also known as sensory overload.

The exercises involved in occupational therapy include combing hair, stringing beads, interactive games and solving puzzles.

Occupational therapy can help your autistic child to be more independent because they are learning to do age-appropriate activities by themselves.

4. Play Therapy

Autistic children play differently than other children, and there are times when they want to play alone. However, they still use play as a way to communicate with others and express themselves.

Like many other children, autistic children can learn through play.

Play therapy has many benefits, such as improving emotional and social skills and expanding communication skills. There are several ways to take part in play therapy with your child.

Floor time

Your child's therapist sits on the floor to play with your child at their level. The game is expanded with another toy or new words, and this can help your child to boost their communication skills and think in different ways.

Integrated Play Groups (IPGs)

Your child's therapist creates a group of three to five children with and without autism spectrum disorder. Their therapist starts the game and eventually lets the group take the lead.

The goal is for your child to build their social skills and learn other ways to play. For instance, your child may participate more in pretend play games after spending time with other children.

Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation (JASPER)

The JASPER program helps autistic children socialize with their peers by teaching them to focus on several things at once. In particular, your child may learn how to focus on a toy and their peer at the same time.

JASPER expands the way children play with toys while encouraging more pretend play games. The program uses various activities to improve your child's socialization and communication skills.

One exercise of joint attention therapy is pointing and showing, and this helps your child look between a person and an object.

5. Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach (DIR-Floortime)

DIR-Floortime is the act of a therapist, teacher or parent getting down on the floor to interact and play with the child. The idea is to enhance your child's emotional development.

  1. Emotional and Cognitive Development: Recognizing the feelings of other people.
  2. Communication: Learning how to take part in mutual conversations.
  3. 3otor Skills: Improving skills such as combing hair, buttoning shirts and tying shoelaces.
  4. Sensory Development: Teaching children to make sense of what they see or hear around them.

The goal is to improve socialization and language while decreasing repetitive behavior.

DIR-Floortime activities are based on your child's interests and actions. It can also be paired with other types of therapy for autism, such as play therapy.

6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy helps children to learn the connection between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The goal is to teach children how to recognize, rethink and cope with various emotions and situations, such as anxiety.

The exercises vary per child, but they may include guided discovery, relaxation techniques, journaling, exposure therapy and behavioral experiments. Specific activities may include mindful breathing, creating a "feelings thermometer" and challenging negative thoughts.

CBT is based on the individual needs of your child, and you can work with your child and their therapist to come up with healthy coping skills.

7. Music Therapy

Music therapy can be used to help autistic children improve how they communicate, share attention and play with others. There are four stages to music therapy.

  1. Assessment: A music therapist assesses your child to create a plan based on their needs.
  2. Goal-Setting: A plan is developed to help your child meet their personal goals, such as interacting with peers.
  3. Activities: Depending on your child's goals, their session may include activities such as movement, listening to music, writing a song and playing an instrument.
  4. Evaluation: Your child's sessions are regularly evaluated to ensure they are going well. Therapists can also use the evaluations to improve individual plans.

The activities help children to improve skills such as alternative communication, taking turns and sharing attention with peers. You may even discover that your child processes information better when it is sung rather than spoken.

8. Art Therapy

Art therapy is used to help children express themselves through activities such as visual arts, music, dance and drama. In fact, art therapy has been shown to have the following positive impacts on autistic children.

  1. They become better at communicating with others. This is especially true for non-verbal children.
  2. They learn to recognize emotions and respond better to sensory stimuli, which promotes positive behavior.
  3. They are encouraged to use their imagination through various exercises.
  4. They learn how to form stronger relationships with others.

Art therapy also gives children the freedom to express themselves as they see fit, such as choosing paint colors and fabric textures for a visual art project. Freedom of expression is important because an autistic child is unique and needs an individualized treatment plan.

Choosing the Right Therapy for Your Child with Autism

It is difficult to determine which therapy is best for your child. You cannot compare your decision to other autistic families because everyone has different needs. Luckily, the following tips can help you choose the right therapy for your autistic child.

1. Consider Your Child's Needs

The first thing to consider is what you want your child to get out of therapy.

Does your child need help with communicating with others? Speech-language therapy and play therapy are beneficial for expanding your child's social and communication skills.

Do you want your child to cope better with stressful situations? Your child may benefit from Cognitive-Behavior Therapy.

Creating a list of your child's needs makes it easier to narrow down the types of therapy that work for them.

2. Research Each Therapy Option

Once you determine your child's needs, you want to research each therapy option to see which treatment is right for them.

The therapy you choose should align with your child's needs. Keep in mind that you can look into more than one type of therapy if necessary. For example, you may feel both play therapy and art therapy are essential in teaching your child how to express their feelings.

However, you want to avoid overwhelming your child with different types of therapies. It is best to find the right balance to keep your child from shutting down and resisting appointments.

3. Pay Attention To Their Therapist

Once you do choose a therapy, pay attention to how your child and therapist interact with one another. Your child should be treated with respect, patience and understanding, and they should never be treated poorly or encouraged to mask their autistic traits.

If you notice any red flags such as encouraging masking, forcing eye contact and withholding basic needs, end the sessions and look for a new therapist immediately.

The good news is, it is possible to find a therapist who is a great fit for your child. You just need to keep your eyes open and never settle for less than what your child deserves.

4. Keep Speech-Language Therapy In Mind

Finally, you want to keep speech-language therapy in mind when choosing the right type of therapy for your child. Speech-language therapy can help your child learn effective ways to communicate with others.

The wide range of therapies for autism can be overwhelming, but the selection also increases your chances of finding the right type of therapy for your child.

It is important to look into therapy as soon as your child is diagnosed for early intervention, but your child can benefit from therapy for autism even at an older age.


  1. https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/therapies-to-help-with-autism
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html
  3. https://www.thetreetop.com/aba-therapy/types-of-therapy-for-autism
  4. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments
  5. https://www.ambitionsaba.com/resources/types-of-therapy-for-autism
  6. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/autism-learning-disabilities/autism-treatments-therapies-interventions.htm