There many options for behavioral interventions and treatments for an autism spectrum disorder. It can be quite a daunting task to figure out which one to incorporate into a person’s life who is on the autism spectrum. To have a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder, the person would have different degrees of the symptoms of communication deficit, social impairment, and restricted activities or interests. Although these symptoms helped classify an autism spectrum disorder, it is an understanding of two key factors that will help you in determining if an intervention or treatment is effective.
Two Key Factors > Biological Processing in the Body and Information Processing in the Brain
Key Factor 1: Biological processing of food and environmental triggers in the body
A person on the autism spectrum can have digestion issues such as food not properly digesting or allergies/intolerances which can cause the body to react negatively to improperly digested proteins that go into the bloodstream up into the brain and adversely impacts brain functions like information or sensory processing.
It is important to assess what the problems are, for example, allergies, low vitamin or mineral levels, poor digestion and apply the treatment that can positively change the problem by removing the allergenic food from the diet, use vitamin supplements to increase vitamin and mineral levels, changing the diet by removing foods that are causing poor digestion or removing environmental triggers.
Key Factor 2: Processing of information in the brain (how we learn)
Research has been done that shows the brain structure of a person on the autism spectrum is genetically different in the way it processes information. A neurotypical person’s brain processes information by observing a task, then imitating the task. Whereas a person on the autism spectrum needs to have a task broken down into smaller parts and then each part needs to be taught to the person in a visual and structured way. The task then needs to be copied, modeled or imitated by the person on the autism spectrum and when the task is done correctly there needs to be reinforcement (preferably positive) to the person that what they did was correct. After the smaller parts of the task are taught individually, they can be connected together to complete the task as a whole.
It is very important to understand, the process in which a person on the autism spectrum learns does not change. All of the methods (also called ‘interventions’ or ‘treatments’) listed below apply the same process of learning:
- Take a task and break down the task into smaller parts.
- Teach the person how to do the smaller part of the task by showing pictures and explaining the task, or by physically do the task in front of them along with the verbal instruction so that they can see it being done.
- Ask the person to imitate or copy what you just taught them.
- If they imitate it correctly, reinforce their correct imitation in a positive way. If they don’t imitate the task correctly or don’t do it all, assess if there is something preventing them from doing the task, for example, a sensory issue that needs to be adapted for or further simplification of the task because it is still too complex, then repeat the teaching until they imitate the task and reinforce the completion of imitating the task in a positive way
- When the smaller parts of the task are all taught, imitated and understood correctly, then connect those smaller parts together into the task as a whole.
When you are choosing an intervention or therapy, the method or way that the teaching method is presented may be different but the way a person on the autism spectrum processes information does not change of the need for a visual demonstration of the task, imitation of the task, correction, and reinforcement of the task.
Common methods of teaching (also known as interventions, treatments or therapies)
|Model||Behavioral model||Emotional/developmental model||Educational/school model||Visual structured model|
|Method Strategy||Breaks down skills into manageable pieces and then builds upon those skills so that a child learns how to learn in the natural environment.||Get down on the floor with your child and interact and play. The interactions promote a child’s growth by following his lead, wooing him with warm but persistent attempts to engage his attention and tuning in to his interests and desires in interactions. Following a child’s lead is only one component of the intervention. There are also semi-structured problem-solving components.||Environments are created with clear, concrete, visual information. Visual schedules, routines, organizational strategies (e.g., working from left to right), and visual work systems are used that help a child achieve independence in various skills.||Shows a person what is going to happen and the order of events. Develops a positive routine of looking for information and thus increase flexibility and the ability to cope with life’s ups and downs.|
How to know that you have chosen the correct intervention or treatment?
For the biological factors in a person’s life you assess and make the adjustments needed for digestion, food sensitivities, allergies, and environmental triggers by removing the triggers, and making dietary changes. Improved health and brain function in processing information would show that the choices you make are effective.
For the processing of information factors, understand that how a person on the autism spectrum learns does not change but there are many different ways or methods you can use to assess and present the information and although there are differences in the approaches they all incorporate this same learning process. Each person is unique and responds at differing degrees to the changes you make, don’t be discouraged by these differing degrees as they are not a measurement of your parenting abilities. We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, and the process of learning is a lifetime process.