Understanding Therapy And Psychiatric Intervention For Kids On The Autism Spectrum

For parents with children on the autism spectrum, therapy and psychiatric visits often clutter the daily schedule. If your child has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, it's important that you understand the benefit of psychiatric counseling. When you get early psychiatric intervention, you may be able to help your child develop some of the lacking social, behavioral and developmental skills. Here's a look at two of the most common methods used for autism spectrum therapy and how they can help your child.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy focuses on teaching kids on the spectrum about acceptable behaviors and their rewards as well as negative behaviors and their consequences. Your child's care provider will help you establish an applied behavior therapy approach that teaches your child about behaviors through active training. For example, your child may be instructed to do certain things or carry out specific tasks in exchange for rewards such as stickers or something that is specifically tailored to the child's interests.

Applied behavioral therapy is helpful because it encourages the child to actively complete tasks and apply specific behaviors to a situation. Since many children on the spectrum have difficulty actually applying the advice and instructions they receive, this kind of active reinforcement is helpful for kids to put the verbal instructions into practice.

Developmental Therapy

Developmental therapy involves children developing and using skills in stages, starting with the basic fundamentals and moving on to more complex skills. Developmental therapies are typically reinforced through interactions between the child and the therapist as well as between the child and parents. The goal is for caregivers and therapists to meet the child at his or her level and try to build on the existing skills.

For example, a child that's struggling with interpersonal connections might receive developmental therapy in the form of parents and therapists getting on the floor when he or she is building with blocks. The adult can then start building as well, trying to make eye contact and interact gently and in a non-imposing way.

Gradually, the child should learn to take those contact clues and start interacting with adults and others who try to play along. As interaction skills are developed, it can gradually migrate to brief conversation along with the joint activities.

Psychiatric Treatment With Counseling

Since many children on the autism spectrum have other co-morbid conditions, some therapists encourage parents to seek the support of a psychiatrist in addition to the behavioral therapists and counselors. Psychiatrists are able to prescribe medications for children to better manage their co-morbid conditions. In fact, children with a co-morbid psychiatric condition are more likely to be taking a psychotropic medication than those children on the spectrum without a co-morbid condition of any kind. The support of a psychiatrist is essential for these children, particularly for their own safety given the limited impulse control for kids on the spectrum.


There are many factors that can affect the success of various treatments for kids on the spectrum, including these early intervention options. For example, a child's support system at home and the effort that the parents put into reinforcing the lessons addressed in therapy can significantly affect the success of the therapy program.

Sometimes, the addition of a medication from a psychiatrist is essential, because the medication can address the chemical issues that are interfering with the child's ability to retain the new information and instructions.

In either case, a personalized, direct approach to treatment is essential. Working with a team of therapists, behavioral aides and a skilled psychiatrist can make it easier for you to address those challenges that your child struggles with the most.