Therapeutic Programs for Kids on the Autism Spectrum: Conditions that Parents Should Look For

“We are wanting to get our child (high functioning) into some form of therapy. What things should we look for so we can find the best fit for her specific needs?”

The following are positive program specifications to be kept in mind when deciding on an appropriate program for children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA). These may not be applicable to every child; however, they are optimal conditions to keep in mind when dealing with program specifications.

Ideally, the program will include the following:

1.  Opportunities for social interaction and facilitation of social relationships in fairly structured and supervised activities.

2.  Relatively small setting with ample opportunity for individual attention, individualized approach, and small work groups.

3.  The availability of a communication specialist with a specific interest in pragmatics and social skills training who can (a) be available for individual and small group work, and (b) make a communication and social skills training intervention an integral part of all activities. These activities should be implemented at all times, consistently, and across staff members, settings, and situations. This specialist can also act as a resource to the other staff members.

4.  A concern for the acquisition of real-life skills and academic goals, making use of creative initiatives and making full use of the child’s interests and talents. For instance, given the fact that children with HFA often excel in certain activities, social situations may be constructed so as to allow him the opportunity to take the leadership in the activity, explaining, demonstrating, or teaching others how to improve in the particular activity.

Such situations are ideal to help kids on the autism spectrum:
  • Follow coherent and less one-sided goal-directed behaviors and approaches. Also, by taking the leadership in an activity, the child’s self-esteem is likely to be boosted, and her (usually difficult) position vis-a-vis peers is for once reversed.
  • Follow conversation and social interaction rules.
  • Take the perspective of others.

5. The availability of a sensitive therapist who can focus on the youngster’s emotional well-being and who could serve as a coordinator of services, serving as a resource to other staff members, monitoring progress, and providing effective and supportive liaison with the family. 

6. Lastly, a willingness to adapt the curriculum content and requirements in order to flexibly provide opportunities for success, to foster the acquisition of a more positive self-concept, and to foster an internalized investment in performance and progress. This may mean that the child with HFA is provided with individual challenges in his or her areas of strength, and with individualized programs in his or her areas of weakness.

Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:

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