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Proven Treatment Options for Children with Autism: Evidence-Based Care

Posted on November 21st, 2014

Proven Treatment Options for Children with Autism – Evidence-based care for your child.

There are multiple treatment options available for children with autism. Finding an appropriate treatment plan for each child takes time and will evolve as the child progresses. The National Autism Center completed the National Standards Project in 2009 with the goal of summarizing thousands of research articles to determine which treatments are well-established.  A well-established treatment means the treatment has multiple research studies that support its effectiveness for children with autism. Eleven treatments are considered to meet this criteria and therefore likely to be effective:

  • Antecedent Package: antecedents are what happens before the problem behavior occurs. This treatment focuses on changing the situations that occur before a problem behavior to help the child be more successful. For example, some children with autism have difficulty with changes in their daily schedules. If a child has a tantrum when routines change, the changing routine is the antecedent to the problem behavior (tantrum).
  • Behavioral Package: this treatment focuses on reducing the problem behavior and also teach appropriate behavior to replace the problem behavior (e.g. using your words instead of hitting)
  • Comprehensive Behavioral Treatment for Young Children: this is more of a comprehensive program examining how the learning of certain behaviors happens, and is also referred to as Applied Behavioral Analysis.
  • Joint Attention Intervention: Joint attention is when two or more people are looking at or interacting with the same object, often based on nonverbal cues, such as following someone’s eye gaze to the object they are looking at.

  • Modeling: this involves an adult or peer demonstrating the appropriate behavior that is being worked on.
  • Naturalistic Teaching Strategies: The goal of this treatment is to teach the child skills in the natural environment instead of a clinic or office setting. For example, teaching appropriate play skills (taking turns, working together, etc) on the playground during recess.
  • Peer Training Package: With this treatment, peers are the “teacher” for the student with autism and help teach social and play interactions.
  • Pivotal Response Treatment: This treatment focuses on targeting “pivotal” behavioral areas which may include: motivation to engage in social communication, self-initiation, self management, and responsiveness to multiple social cues.
  • Schedules: Schedules are basically a task list that explains a series of steps the child is required to complete a specific activity. For example, having a task list of different chores that needs to completed and how to complete each one successfully. Schedules often include reinforcement.
  • Self- management: These interventions try to increase independence by teaching children with autism to monitor and regulate their own behavior. For example, a child with autism may keep track of how many times they initiate conversations with peers. Reinforcement is also an important component.
  • Story-based Intervention Package: This treatment involves a written description of behaviors in situations, also called social stories. Social stories encourage perspective taking by looking at “who, why, when, where, and why” in the social story.

Which treatment will work for your child?  These treatments are often used in a combination that is best for each individual child.  The right combination depends on many factors, such as behaviors, age of child, and severity of symptoms. When seeking treatment for a child with autism, pediatricians and psychologists can provide helpful information and referrals. As with any child, collaboration between home and school is essential to help ensure success.


National Autism Center Resources for Families

National Autism Resource and Information Center

Families for Early Autism Treatment

UC Davis MIND Institute


Wilczynski, S. (2010). Evidence-Based Practice and Autism Spectrum Disorders: The National Standards Project NASP Communique, 38.

National Autism Center-Autism Treatment



Contributed by Miranda Kucera, PhD, school psychologist in Placer County

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