Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum


No single approach or type of therapy has been found successful for all children with autism, but a variety of educational and management programmes and other therapies are available. Sometimes parents have found a particular approach has helped their children, but in summarising their experiences we are in no way recommending any type of treatment. We suggest parents look at Research Autism (see 'resources') which provides scientifically valid information about different interventions.

In addition to the standard therapies available through the NHS, for example, speech and occupational therapy which some parents had tried with some success, many parents had tried other therapies with their children which they funded themselves. There was no consensus between parents about what did and didn’t work and we recommend parents read the information sheets available at National Autistic Society for more detail about the different types of therapies discussed here.

A few of the parents discussed the Son-Rise programme which involves intensive sessions with volunteers within a purpose-built playroom in their home. While some parents felt that parts of the programme helped, overall it had not been practical to use it because it was hard to get enough volunteers to help run the programme. It was also difficult to set aside one room in the house for that purpose, and for parents with more than one child on the spectrum, it was also not practical as the children needed the playroom at separate times.

Other therapies and approaches discussed included therapies designed around changing the child’s behaviour such as Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), Developmental Individual Relationship (DIR), and also those that aimed to improve communication skills such as social stories, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), Johansen’s Sound Therapy, Auditory Integration Therapy (AIT) and Relationship Development Interaction (RDI). One parent found PECS “brilliant to start off with” until her son developed his speech. A few parents also did more physical therapies such as using the trampoline, light sabres, squidgy toys and play dough to help strengthen their children’s muscles.

Other approaches discussed included systematic family therapy [a form of therapy that emphasises family relationships as an important factor in psychological health], cognitive behavioural therapy, neurological testing, physiotherapy type approaches such as Bow Bath Therapy, cranio-osteopathy, reiki, aromatherapy, reflexology and crystal healing. Some parents who had experimented with different approaches described using some aspects of the approaches in their daily lives.

One parent described her approach as “a mixture of very sensitive teachers with very good strategies in the schools, some alternative therapists who were very carefully chosen and whose advice we followed and a very, very calm atmosphere in the house”. Other parents reflected on the difficulty of knowing what approach to take and one offered the following advice:

 “One of the things with autism you know there is so many interventions and it is very easy to almost beat yourself on the head because you think you know are we doing enough. You know you always worry that you are not doing enough for him or you are not doing the right thing. At the end of the day as a parent I think you have just got to do what you feel is right for your child.”

Reservations about therapies
Some parents had tried various approaches and had reservations about the number and cost of different therapies on offer. Some of the therapies mentioned above can cost a lot of money and involve travelling abroad for introductory training programmes. One parent said: “I have tried all sorts of weird and wonderful things out of desperation”; another said: “Grasping at any kind of hope, any kind of alternative treatment, any kind of magic bullet, can waste enormous amounts of time, energy and your child’s goodwill”. Another parent reflected on the “load of mumbo jumbo” they were desperate enough to try when their son was younger.

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Last reviewed July 2017

Last updated November 2012.



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