Updated: Apr 1
As a parent looking for therapeutic services for your child, you may hear a lot of names and referrals thrown at you. "Your child needs OT…I’m going to refer you to a speech-language pathologist…Have you ever considered ABA?"
Before going into the blackhole of Google to start researching what all these therapies are, we have decided to do it for you! Below you will find some basic information on the most common therapies for children on the spectrum, how they can assist in your child’s development, and what you can do to make sure your child is benefitting from these services.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is OT?
Occupational Therapy assists people in their everyday activities and supports skills needed to participate in meaningful activities. Occupational therapists (OTs) are trained in adapting the environment to meet the person’s specific needs.
For children on the spectrum, occupational therapy can help in increasing independence with daily living skills, such as dressing, grooming, eating, toileting, and motor skills...
How does it help my child?
For children on the spectrum, occupational therapy can help in increasing independence with daily living skills, such as dressing, grooming, eating, toileting, and motor skills (writing, coloring, cutting). OT can also assist in managing self-regulation and promote success with various challenges related to sensory experiences (e.g. excessive sensory seeking, excessive sensory defensiveness, deficits with sensory awareness and integration, etc.). Some OTs also have special training to help with certain feeding issues.
What is speech-language therapy?
Speech-Language Therapy can help people in their language and communication skills. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are trained to assist in a variety of communication and swallowing problems such as the following: stuttering, articulation, reading, voice, and feeding, to name a few.
How does it help my child?
Speech-language services can help improve a child’s verbal, nonverbal, and social language/communication. SLPs can also help families with finding an alternative and augmentative communication device (AAC) for their child.
What is ABA?
ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, is a therapy approach that is based on decades of research. It focuses on using positive reinforcement to increase desired skills. ABA also focuses on decreasing and replacing any challenging behaviors that may be interfering with a person’s ability to learn or to be independent in their day to day activities. ABA therapy can be used to address any type of skill or behavior. Examples of skills that are commonly addressed include, communication/language, following directions, social skills, daily living skills, play, and more! There are many different teaching methods under the “umbrella” of ABA and the methods that are used should be dependent on how a child will best learn their targeted skills.
ABA will help replace undesired behaviors with more positive and functional skills, such as learning how to talk or learning how to play appropriately with siblings/peers.
How does it help my child?
With consistent application across settings and people, ABA therapy results in significant improvements. Moreover, it can help families learn how to increase their child’s independence with desired skills and can also help them understand why their child may be engaging in a specific undesired behavior. ABA will help replace undesired behaviors with more positive and functional skills, such as learning how to talk or learning how to play appropriately with siblings/peers. The aim is to help a child “catch up” with the skills that are expected for his/her age, as quickly as possible.
So what service is best for my child?
As a parent, you may get referrals for one or all services, and you may wonder whether to do all of them, or just one. There can be some overlap in these fields. However, this is not a bad thing! Each intervention can provide a different perspective to your child’s progress.
If your child is receiving multiple services, it is important to make sure that there is collaboration between all therapists. By advocating for collaboration, therapists can share tips, strategies, and make sure that they are all working towards the same goals and doing so in ways that are not going to confuse the child, or hinder progress.
For example, let’s take a look at a common referral that each field can help with: feeding. An occupational therapist may look at ways to help the child increase their ability to eat or drink by themselves, and may provide suggestions for utensils and seating arrangements. A speech-language pathologist will look at a child’s oral-motor function (if they’re capable of eating certain foods or textures), and may recommend specific food or drink items to start with. Finally, a behavior analyst can provide strategies to increase motivation and compliance with eating or drinking, how to provide reinforcement, and what to do if problem behaviors ever occur during mealtimes.
Each field teaches its practitioners to seek collaboration and to be part of a team.
In this scenario, each professional can work on feeding, however what they bring to the table (no pun intended) is different, yet beneficial, to the child.
If you’re thinking that one of these services may be right for your child, the best place to start would be to go to your doctor and ask for a referral. If you already have a provider, ask if they have any references or are in collaboration with any other therapists. If they’re not, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Each field teaches its practitioners to seek collaboration and to be part of a team.
For more information about each field, you can explore each of their professional associations’ websites below. They have great handouts geared for parents, and tools to help families find a provider near their area.