Health & Medical Autism

Can You Become Your Child"s Autism Therapist? Yes! These Tools Can Help

Updated June 29, 2014.

When my son with autism was a little boy, I found myself chafing over what seemed to me to be exorbitant costs for relatively simple therapies.  How tough could it be, I asked myself, to learn the basics of play therapy, social skills therapy, or Applied Behavioral Therapy?  After all, training for these approaches to treating the core symptoms of autism don't require a Ph.D. (as physical therapy does), or years of experience (as speech therapy does).


And so I picked out a therapy (in my case it was Floortime, a form of play therapy), and set out to learn the ropes.  I attended a few conferences, read a number of books, watched videos, and rolled up my sleeves.  I may be tooting my own horn here, but I do feel strongly that Tom's social and communication skills (as well as his ability to work with abstract and symbolic concepts) increased significantly as a direct result of my intervention.

All this was in 2001 -- long before webinars, web videos, Skype, and online distance learning became the norm.  Then, I had to shell out for the price of travel, conference fees, and a hotel room (not to mention the cost of books and videos).  Today, better tools are available at far less cost.

There are many therapies out there that are intended to meet the social-communication needs of children with autism; not all of them are researched or managed by well-established and respected organizations.  Of those that are best recognized three or four are easy for parents to learn about through online sources.


Caveat: Parents can learn about and implement non-invasive, non-medical therapies on their own, and doing so with the therapies listed below cannot harm your child.  HOWEVER: it is extremely helpful to pay a professional to help you set up your child's therapeutic plan and assessment.  Without guidance, your outcomes may not be as positive as you might hope.

Here is a quick listing of sites that can help you choose the right therapy for your home-based experience.  Before making a decision and diving in, however, it's important to do additional research into options, costs, and time involved.  Whichever option you choose, be sure you feel comfortable with the philosophy and procedures involved.

ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) is considered by many to be the "gold standard" for autism treatment,.  Based on rewards for appropriate or correct responses, it can be very effective if not particularly warm and fuzzy.  There are some ABA variants, however, that are more naturalistic and community focused.  If you're interested in learning to use ABA yourself, start with this free online training program at UC Davis and then consider signing up for the fee based in-depth program available through DiffLearn.  If you really feel comfortable with ABA, you can also look into university-based training for professional skills.

Floortime (DIR/ICDL) is a form of play therapy which focuses on "closing circles of communication" between parent and child, and on building social, communication, and reasoning skills.  It's also a lot of fun.  For $100, you can take an online course from Floortime's (now deceased) founder, Stanley Greenspan, which comes complete with assessment materials and more.  Greenspan's books are also a terrific resource.

Sensory Integration Therapy is officially a subset of occupational therapy, for which you really do need a specialized degree. But it is very possible to learn about and implement aspects of sensory integration therapy without formal training. If you're interested, you can't beat SPDUniversity, an online compendium of courses offered free or for relatively nominal fees, covering theory and practice as well as niche topics such as managing feeding issues, helping to promote body awareness, and more.

Social Skills Training really isn't a specialty in itself.  Rather, it is a sub-specialty within many different fields, including speech and language, occupational, physical, recreational, and many other types of therapy.  That's because social learning can take place in almost any setting. In addition to learning to write your own social stories to help your child prepare for and manage social situations, it may also be helpful to browse the extensive information available on Michelle Garcia Winner's Social Thinking website.

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