Getting help for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Getting help for autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Getting help for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 1300 867 Team Mindsum
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Last updated: 4 January 2021

This article covers:

– What types of therapies are involved?

– What types of professionals are involved?

– The journey of managing ASD

What types of therapies are involved?

When managing ASD, there are many types of therapies that can be involved. These therapies focus on the child’s development and their ability to communicate and relate to others. This can include psychotherapy, applied behavioural analysis, speech therapy, play therapy, and occupational therapy. These will be discussed below.

It is common for people with ASD to have mental health difficulties. Therefore, talk therapies can be very helpful for them to learn to manage these issues. According to research, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy that can be effective in helping children with ASD to cope with anxiety.  

The idea behind psychotherapy for ASD is to help the child to cope better with mental health difficulties in a way that is adapted to their needs and characteristics.


The therapist will work with the child or young person to understand and learn the skills to manage their mental health challenges. The therapist might use games, their own special interests, pictures, technology and regular breaks to help them to engage.


Applied behavioural analysis (ABA)

This is a type of behavioural therapy that focuses on learning and behaviour. Research shows ABA as one of the most effective early interventions for children with ASD.


The idea behind ABA is to increase the behaviours that are helpful and reduce the behaviours that are harmful or that affects learning. The therapist will target certain behaviours that are helpful by giving positive rewards when it happens. These behaviours might be related to the areas of play, language, communication, motor skills, self-care and learning.


Over time, the child will accumulate a set of positive behaviours that will help them to have greater success in everyday life.


Speech therapy

This is a type of therapy that focuses on helping the child or young person to develop language and communication skills.


The idea behind speech therapy is to improve the child’s ability to engage in spoken language, non-verbal language, signs and gestures. The speech and language therapist might help the child by strengthening the muscles of the mouth, improving sounds, forming words, matching emotions with facial expressions and understanding body language.


The child or young person will learn to develop their language and communication skills, which will allow them to be more successful in everyday life.


Play therapy

This is a type of therapy that focuses on helping the child to develop their social skills, language and communication through play time sessions. According to research, play therapy is effective in helping children with ASD to develop more social and emotional behaviours.


The idea behind this is to play with the child as they take the lead, which gives the therapist opportunities to initiate and encourage social interactions, develop coordination, the use of language and communication. This is also an opportunity for the child to expand their interests.


The therapist will use toys and games to prompt the child to do different things such as making eye contact, communicating their needs, understanding how to move toys and engaging in two-way conversations.


Play therapy is provided by trained therapists, who usually involve parents in play sessions and might coach parents to do it at home.


Occupational therapy

This is a type of therapy that focuses on the development of practical skills that encourages independence in the everyday life of the child or young person with.


The therapist will help the child or young person with the skills that they may have difficulties with. This might include dressing, grooming, eating, using the bathroom, colouring, using stationaries and taking the bus independently.


Eventually, the child or young person will be able to do these activities without help and will live a more independent and successful life.

What types of professionals are involved?

The management of ASD usually involves a multidisciplinary team of professionals. This means that the child or young person will be assessed and treated by different experts. These might include counsellors/psychotherapists, clinical/educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and neurologists. These terms might be confusing, but the main difference is in the training that each of these professionals have received. 

Counsellor/psychotherapist: In the UK, there is not much of a distinction made between counsellor or psychotherapist. Counsellors are trained in helping people with what they need right now, whereas psychotherapists are trained in helping on a more long-term basis. People with ASD might benefit from talking through their difficulties with these professionals. Here at Mindsum, we have counsellors and psychotherapists that are available to provide support.

Clinical/educational psychologist: Clinical psychologists are trained in the diagnosis, evaluation of clinical history and specialized interventions for different conditions, including ASD. Educational psychologists are trained in psychological assessments and providing help towards learning for children in educational settings.

Speech and language therapist (SLT): SLTs are trained in assessing and treating problems with speech, language, communication, eating, swallowing and drinking. The SLT provides specialized sessions for the child or young person to practice and develop the most effective ways to communicate.

Occupational therapist: These professionals are trained in how to help people to be successful in practical skills in daily life. They assess and identify helpful adaptations that may be needed, and they help the child or young person to achieve this.

Social worker: Workers trained in working with vulnerable individuals and the community might also be involved with the child or young person. These professionals might help to provide support for the family and make arrangements for interventions.

Neurologist: This is a doctor that specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the brain and nervous system. Since ASD is a neurodevelopmental condition, it is possible that they might also see a neurologist.

The journey of managing ASD

When it comes to ASD, it is about management as opposed to recovery. This is because ASD is a life-long condition. The way ASD is managed can look different for each child and young person, depending on where they are on the spectrum. An overall journey through the management of ASD is discussed below.

This is an important phase, where professionals will need to identify and assess the child, in order to confirm a diagnosis of autism. This might involve more than one professional who might administer specialized tests with the child and will interview parents to understand what is going on. Depending on the child’s needs on the spectrum, these professionals will provide or refer the child for therapy and specialist services.

Therapy sessions

These might include any combination of counselling, psychotherapy, ABA, occupational therapy, speech therapy or play therapy. Each therapy will aim to target certain goals that are specific to the child. Parents are usually highly involved in many of the sessions. The techniques used in some therapies are usually taught to parents for them to use at home. Sessions usually go on for many months or years throughout the child or young person’s life.

Progress and setbacks

When managing ASD, it is common for setbacks to occur. The difficulties associated with ASD can take a long time to change, so it is not realistic to expect the child or young person to improve quickly or without any setbacks. It is important to not get discouraged when setbacks happen. It is an opportunity for the child or young person, parents and the therapist to think about new ways to move forward.


Ending therapy

The professional will eventually prepare the child or young person and their parents for the end of therapy.

This is a very important phase, because it is vital for the child or young person to develop more independence. This will take place once they have made a lot of progress and has reached their goals. The child or young person and their parents will leave therapy with many skills that they can use independently.


Follow up

There are usually follow-up meetings after any type of therapy for ASD. Professionals would need to assess their progress. At this point, the child might have additional therapy sessions, depending on their needs.

List of useful resources 

Autism spectrum disorder
To read our information on autism spectrum disorder, you can click here to access the link.

Treatments for autism
The Autism speaks website has a wide range of resources on the management of autism. To read more about this, you can click here to access the link.

Introduction to counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for the Counselling Professions (BACP) have a useful document on different aspects of psychological therapy. To read more, you can click here to access the link.

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