Undivided Resources
Article
Autism Therapies and Specialists

Autism Therapies and Specialists


Published: Sep. 7, 2022Updated: Jan. 30, 2024

Featured image
While every child is different, here is a list of therapies that might be recommended to support a child with autism as well as the specialists who may be part of their care team. You can view our full medical specialists glossary and therapies glossary for more information.

Therapies

  • Occupational Therapy(OT): Encompasses a wide range of treatments and interventions for both physical and neurological disabilities that might interrupt a child’s ability to go about their daily life. Particularly beneficial for children with autism, OT targets areas such as fine motor skills, visual motor skills, executive functioning, motor planning, self-care, sensory processing skills and more.
    • Feeding Therapy: An occupational therapist or a speech language pathologist teaches children, including those with autism, how to eat or to eat more effectively. This therapy specifically addresses sensory and motor challenges, helping children develop the coordination and skills needed for successful eating.
    • Nutritional Support Therapy: Used to treat or prevent malnutrition in children who cannot eat enough food. There are two types of nutritional support therapy: enteral nutrition and parenteral nutrition. Enteral nutrition uses a feeding tube, while parenteral nutrition uses a tube inserted directly into the veins in cases where the digestive tract can’t be used.
    • Sensory Integration Therapy: Addresses hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to stimuli in children, including those with autism, by teaching effective coping strategies for managing sensory input challenges. Utilizing a play-oriented approach, this therapy may include elements like deep pressure, weighted vests, trampolines, swings, and slides to increase a child’s threshold for tolerating sensory-rich environments.
  • Physical Therapy (PT): Uses prescribed exercises and hands-on care to treat a range of injuries, disabilities, and other conditions that affect a child’s ability to learn and use the large muscles (arms, legs, and torso) in their body — otherwise known as gross motor skills.
  • Educational Therapy A professional combines educational and therapeutic approaches for evaluation, individualized intervention, case management, and advocacy on behalf of children and adults with learning disabilities or other learning challenges.

    • TEACCH: An educational approach founded on the belief that individuals with autism benefit from consistency and visual learning. It guides teachers in adapting classroom structures to improve academic performance and more.
  • Speech-Language Pathology: Treats communication difficulties and disorders such as oral motor dysfunction, fluency, speech sounds related to apraxia or dysarthria, and communication issues.
    • AAC: Offers alternative ways to communicate for people with autism, from writing in a notebook to using gestures or pressing buttons on a tablet that speaks for the child. There are two types of ACC: Unaided systems (uses one’s own body) and aided systems (uses a tool or device).
    • The Picture Exchange Communication System: A method of communication that involves using pictures, symbols, words or photographs to communicate.
    • American Sign Language (ASL): A visual language that uses hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movement for non-verbal communication. This is a form of communication that is beneficial for individuals who are non-speaking, Deaf, or hard of hearing.
    • Natural Language Acquisition (NLA): The process in which children learn languages naturally. There are two types of ways to learn a language: Analytical Language Processing (starts with single words and progresses to full sentences) and Gestalt Language Processing (begins with full sentences that they can break apart). Individuals with autism predominantly use Gestalt Language Processing.
    • Talk Tools and Oral Placement Therapy (OPT): OPT combines auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation to address oral-motor challenges, such as difficulty with coordinated tongue movement and swallowing. Talk Tools is a type of OPT that uses tools (straws, horns, buttons) to improve muscle strength in the mouth.
    • Oral Motor Strengthening: Exercises that improve how the mouth, jaw, lips, cheeks, and tongue work together, helping children coordinate better for sound production and clear speech.
    • PROMPT Therapy: A form of therapy for individuals with aphasia, apraxia, autism, cerebral palsy, and more that utilizes visual, auditory, or tactile prompts and responses. This can include pointing to letter stencils and boards, the use of devices, handwriting, and purposeful speech. The four main objectives are cognitive, skill, tolerance, and communication.
    • Total Communication: An approach that accepts and encourages individuals that are non-speaking or minimally verbal to use tools to communicate and express themselves. This includes using gestures, body language, sign language, augmented communication devices, lip reading, cued speech, and more.
  • Vision Therapy: Vision therapy is a broad term for a therapy program that attempts to improve visual skills and abilities. It can be used to prevent or correct myopia (nearsightedness), strabismus (when both eyes do not line up in the same direction), and diplopia (double vision). It involves eye exercises used by pediatric ophthalmologists and orthoptists that can be taught at the doctor’s office and repeated later at home.
  • Neurologic Music Therapy: Conducted by a stimulus specialist trained in the neuroscience of music. This therapy focuses on optimizing function and neuropathways using music.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral intervention therapies involve a wide variety of acronyms: ABA, FBA, PBIS, and more. These different therapies help kids build communication and self-regulation skills at school, at home, and in their communities. Tailored to the individual, behavioral therapy addresses the distinct ways autism manifests in individuals.
    • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): A type of therapy most often used to support individuals with autism that seeks to improve or teach specific behaviors in areas such as social skills, communication, self-care, and academics.
    • DIR Floortime: A play-based therapy that seeks to help your child progress through creativity and connection. It is a child-led but still targeted approach where all or most of the child’s senses will be engaged while using their emotional and motor skills.
    • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI): Guides parents of children with autism and primary caregivers to adopt new perspectives and behaviors, aiding them in effectively using their time to improve their child’s mental development.
    • Play Therapy: A form of therapy that employs play activities to assist children in expressing emotions, enhancing communication, and working through various challenges. Particularly beneficial for children with autism who may engage in solitary play and repetitive actions, this therapy encourages sharing, exploring their environment, taking turns, and interacting with peers.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A psychological treatment that helps improve emotional regulation to protect against irrational fears or behaviors due to anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), Autism and other diagnoses.
    • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): An approach that combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies, emphasizing the development of skills for emotional regulation, improving social interactions, handling distress and more.
  • Social skills training: Therapy centers and hospitals host social skills groups for many age brackets, from younger children well into the teen years. Programs for younger children are often based on experiential play, where they can put communication, problem solving, decision making, and peer relations into practice. These programs can be helpful for children and teens with autism or other developmental disorders that can make socializing with same-age peers a struggle.

Specialists

  • Pediatricians
    • Primary Care Pediatricians: Provides comprehensive healthcare for children, including preventative care, routine check-ups, vaccinations, and addresses any common illnesses or developmental concerns.
    • Developmental Pediatricians: Specializing in evaluating and treating infants, children, and young adults with developmental delays, behavioral challenges, and learning disabilities, developmental pediatricians are experts in assessing developmental delays and autism. They can play a central role in your child’s overall care, providing guidance, referrals, and support, and helping coordinate care with your child’s other physicians, therapists, and educators.
    • Pediatric Ophthalmologist: An eye doctor who specializes in treating various eye conditions and disorders in children
    • Pediatric Audiologist: An audiologist specialized to evaluate and treat children with hearing-related conditions. They can provide hearing tests, diagnosing hearing disorders, and recommend appropriate interventions and treatments.
  • Psychologists and Psychiatrists
    • Clinical Child Psychologist: Assists and assesses children, including those with autism, with concerns such as missed developmental milestones or issues with feeding and sleeping. They can also help establish effective communication among a child’s providers, as well as help families identify their child’s needs and priorities.
    • Developmental Psychologist: Specializes in the study of human growth and development throughout the lifespan. They can evaluate patients to determine if they have developmental disabilities and create treatment plans.
    • Educational Psychologist: An educational psychologist is a qualified teacher who is also trained as a psychologist. They often work with parents, teachers, and children to assess the child’s development, find out about any learning problems, recommend therapies and in-classroom tools, or identify a child’s unmet emotional needs. They might work in a school setting or in private practice.
    • Pediatric Neuropsychologist: Have training in both clinical psychology and neuropsychology. They focus on the development of the brain and evaluate and help treat children with neurological disorders, brain trauma, autism, ADHD, and more. Pediatric Neuropsychologists also conduct educational assessments regularly in schools.
    • Pediatric Psychiatrist: A pediatric psychiatrist specializes in the diagnosis and the treatment of disorders of thinking, feeling, and/or behavior that affect children, adolescents, and their families. This includes evaluating and diagnosing disorders such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, mood disorders, tics/Tourette syndrome, and other mental health issues in addition to prescribing and monitoring medications and providing psychotherapy for the child and/or parents.
  • Neurologists
    • Pediatric Neurologist: Specializes in diagnosing and treating neurological conditions in children that can affect the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.
    • Epileptologist: Neurologists who specialize in the research, diagnosis, treatment, and management of epilepsy. Epileptologists will often provide comprehensive care for those with epilepsy, which may begin with a series of tests to ensure the correct diagnosis.
  • Nutritionist: Nutritionists and dieticians can help provide meal guidance for healthy growth and development, develop meal plans to help manage various digestive conditions, and provide strategies to address picky eating.
  • Pediatric Gastroenterologist (GI): Treats and diagnoses children with digestive, liver, or nutritional challenges.
  • Optometrist: Specializes in eyes and vision to offer preventative care, treatment, and diagnosis.
  • Vision Therapist: A vision therapist specializes in a sequence of eye exercises that are used to improve the quality and efficiency of vision. It is also called vision training. Vision therapy helps patients’ eyes work more efficiently so that they can perform daily tasks like reading and writing with more ease.
  • Neuro-Ophthalmologist: Neuro-ophthalmologists specialize in vision problems that relate to the nervous system.
  • Geneticist: A medical specialty that focuses on genes,genetic conditions, and/or congenital disabilities. Geneticists often test to see if the cause of a condition is inherited, or if there is something in a person’s DNA code that explains their condition.
    • Neurogeneticist: Specializes in neurogenetic conditions that affect children and adults. They evaluate, diagnose, and provide comprehensive care including genetic counseling and testing for rare neurological disorders. This includes understanding the disorders they diagnose and managing efforts to develop novel treatments.
  • Endocrinologists: A medical specialty focused on the glands, such as the thyroid gland, lymph nodes, spleen, and liver, and the hormones they produce. If a child has problems with growth, puberty, diabetes, or other disorders related to hormones and the glands that produce them, a pediatric endocrinologist may treat them.
  • Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor (ENT): A doctor who specializes in the diseases and disorders of the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck. ENTs provide diagnoses and treatments for the full array of conditions affecting infants and children, such as hearing loss and ear diseases, allergy and sinus disease, voice and swallowing abnormalities, airway problems, cleft lip and palate, and acquired and congenital head and neck masses.

Contents


Overview

Therapies

Specialists

Join the Undivided Community to get more resources like this in your inbox

Tags:

Author

Kylie CooperUndivided Writer and Content Specialist

Reviewed by Brittany Long, Undivided Senior Editor


Promise Image
Each piece of content has been rigorously researched, edited, and vetted to bring you the latest and most up-to-date information. Learn more about our content and research process here.
A Navigator is your Partner at each turn
Every Undivided Navigator has years of experience supporting families raising kids with disabilities or parenting their own. Partner with an Undivided Navigator for a free Kickstart to learn first hand what support feels like!
tick-icon
Expert-driven content, guidance, and solutions.
tick-icon
Member events and office hours with real answers, plus access to our private parents' group.
tick-icon
Priority to begin a free Kickstart of the Undivided Support System with a dedicated Navigator.
“It’s so helpful to have one place that you can go to get many answers.”–Leeza Woodbury, with Navigator Kelly since 2020
*Currently offering Navigator Kickstarts to residents of California