(Originally posted as a guest blog on Autism Speaks)
Every parent of a child with autism asks themselves, “Am I doing enough to help my child?” They look to doctors, specialists, and (particularly) other parents with kids just like theirs for ideas and for validation that they are on the right course. With more therapies out there than there are hours in the week and dollars in the bank account / second mortgage to pursue them, parents are forced to prioritize. So what are the “best” therapies out there? Which ones work best for other kids just like yours? We asked the world’s foremost experts – parents of kids with autism – that very question. To be specific, we asked the parents on MyAutismTeam.com - a social network for more than 28,000 parents of individuals with autism – the following question: “What therapies, if any, worked best for your child”?
Here’s an example of what that question and answer looks like in the story of one mother on MyAutismTeam.
About one-third of the parents on MyAutismTeam have answered this question and more do every day as it is part of the sign-up process. What’s beautiful about this question is that it is highly personal. It doesn’t ask, “What are the best therapies for autism?” Instead, it asks the parent to list the therapies that work best for their child. What “works best” for one child on the spectrum may not work at all for another child or, in the case of occupational or speech therapy, need to be significantly tailored to the developmental needs of each child. Still, there is power in seeing how thousands of parents answer this question. We counted up all the therapies mentioned. Most parents answer this question by listing one or two therapies.
Here are the therapies parents reported as working best for their children, rank-ordered by percent of mentions and including only those therapies that received at least 1% of mentions:
1. Occupational Therapy – 39%
2. Speech Therapy – 27%
3. ABA Therapy – 15%
4. Social Skills Classes – 8%
5. Hippotherapy (OT through horseback riding) – 2%
6. GFCF Diet – 2%
7. Psychiatrist/Psychologist sessions – 2%
8. (5-way tie, each with 1%): Floor Time, RDI, PECs, Swimming, PRT
Other therapies / keywords listed that got less than 1% of mentions
- Mainstream schooling – 0.1%
- iPad – 0.1%
- Vision therapy, aqua therapy
- Vitamin supplements, Chelation, Hyperbaric Chambers – (all combined these last three terms received less than one-tenth of one percent of mentions)
What Does It Mean?
To be clear we are not doing rigorous science here and this is not meant to be comprehensive research but rather a reflection of what about 8,000 parents said worked best for their child. Here were a few of my take-aways:
- Early intervention is working: OT, Speech, ABA and Social Skills therapy win the mentions tally in a landslide. Floor Time, RDI, PECs, PRT and equine-assisted OT (horseback riding therapy) also would be included in that group as they are often led by an OT. The overwhelming majority of parents surveyed said it “worked best” for their child. Occupational therapists help children on a wide range of developmental topics including sensory processing disorder, motor skill development, social interaction, potty training, sleep training and much more. To learn more about occupational therapy and a range of other early intervention therapies download the free 100-Day Kit from Autism Speaks and also read through the long list of other tool-kits on more specific topics such as ABA therapy. In addition you can check out the Autism Treatments page and video glossaryon Autism Speaks for more background on early intervention.
- Early intervention services tend to be the ones offered to parents by the state and by the public school systems as they are evidence-based therapies. ABA therapy tends to be one of the only therapies covered by insurance companies in states that mandate insurance companies to cover autism. Naturally, more parents are going to have tried these services than some alternative therapies not covered by their schools or their insurance. For instance, many parents rave about hippotherapy on MyAutismTeam, but share that they are unable to continue it for budget reasons.
- That said, many parents on MyAutismTeam have tried out everything possible over the years in their quest to help their children. Of those, only a handful point to expensive or non evidence-based therapies such as chelation or hyperbaric chambers as being the thing that worked “best” for their child. Many parents report that in terms of bang-for-your buck, sticking with OT and Speech is best.
- Just because a therapy isn’t mentioned on this list doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work. I want to pro-actively address this issue and prevent an onslaught of comments about all the therapies we’ve left off. This was an “unaided survey” meaning we just asked the question but didn’t offer a multiple choice list of answers. We let parents answer this question in whatever they wish and have simply counted up and categorized the therapies that came to the top of their mind as being best for their child.
Find Out What Works Best for Your Child
One key thing to remember here is that these answers reflect the broad range of parents on MyAutismTeam with children from all parts of the autism spectrum. We all know what works for one child on the spectrum may not do anything for another child with different developmental needs. The question most parents want to answer is, “What therapies work best for kids just like mine.” One of the best way to get constant, up-to-date answers on that question is to build relationships with other parents of kids like yours. You can do that for free by joining MyAutismTeam. You can click on “Find Parents” and search for parents of kids like yours. Connect with them, learn what is working for them, and share what is working for you. If you need a recommendation of an occupational therapist, or speech pathologist, you can see which providers other parents near you have on their teams. There’s a lot of wisdom in the collective experiences of 28,000 parents of kids with autism. You’re not alone and you don’t have to re-invent the wheel.