Upon receiving an ASD diagnosis, families may begin to consider options for treatment and intervention. A number of different types of treatment exist, so it is important to choose what is best for the individual and the family as a whole. Below is information about best practices within the medical and educational settings, research-based interventions, and how to determine which option or options may be best for your family. This not a complete list of all available treatments, nor is it a list of suggested treatments; rather, the information below is designed to help provide families with general ideas related to the various treatments available for individuals with ASD. Before making any decisions about any treatment, the providers and family involved in an individual’s care should work together to determine the most appropriate intervention for the individual and family.

Is ASD a Curable Disorder?

There is no cure for ASD, but the use of evidence-based strategies and interventions can help reduce common symptoms and challenges associated with the disorder.

 What are Evidence-Based Practices?

“Evidence-based” means that the scientific community has found evidence that establishes the effectiveness of a treatment or intervention through rigorous evaluation and scientific research as demonstrated in repeated studies. The National Autism Center’s National Standards Project (2007) categorizes various treatment options based on the level of scientific evidence that supports each and is a useful tool to reference when considering which treatment option may be best for different individuals.


What Treatment is Available for Individuals with ASD?

There are many interventions and services available for individuals with ASD, with the effectiveness or appropriateness of each treatment varying among and between individuals. Some interventions have been studied more than others and, if noted repeatedly to be effective, are considered to be evidence-based practices (EBPs).  Those that have not yet been studied or adequately studied may someday be found to be evidence-based. Common, EBPs are briefly described below. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also offers a helpful list of treatment options backed by scientific research and provides information about additional interventions not listed below.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, is a research-based philosophy of working with individuals of different abilities, not just individuals with ASD. ABA encompasses a range of strategies and methods based on standard behavioral principles designed to address reduction of behaviors by encouraging positive or desired behaviors and discouraging negative or unwanted behaviors in order to improve a variety of skills. Behaviors are considered to be a form of communication that can be addressed by teaching appropriate skills to support the reduction of undesired behaviors across settings. Examples of ABA methods include, but are not limited to:

Discrete Trial Training: Teaching an individual one particular skill through repeated trials
Incidental Teaching: Creating a learning environment based on an individual’s interests or motivations
Pivotal Response Training: Focusing on positive changes in key behaviors to positively affect other behaviors
Social Stories™: Using words and/or pictures to describe what to do in various situations that may challenge or provoke anxiety within an individual (developed by Carol Gray)

Structured Teaching (TEACCH; Schopler)

Structured teaching involves setting up an individual’s environment for success by using structure (e.g., physical structure, visual structure, visual schedules, work systems) to lend organization, predictability and understanding of expectations.  The structured teaching method is designed to capitalize on strengths of individuals with ASD, minimize their challenges and support independence. Structured teaching originated at the TEACCH Program at the University of North Carolina.

Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS; Bondy and Frost)

The Picture Exchange Communication System, or PECS, is designed to improve an individual’s ability to expressively communicate through the use of pictures representing language or concepts. The individual is systematically and gradually taught the expectation for exchange of a picture to communicate and interact with others.  As the system is utilized, additional picture cards are added as appropriate and the complexity of the communications can be increased.  This low tech communication system can be utilized to promote functional communication as an alternative to negative behaviors and in combination with and/or to promote verbal or other communications as well.

Verbal Behavior Analysis (VBA; Skinner)

Verbal Behavior Analysis utilizes DTT methods to specifically focus on and teach verbal skills. Individuals are taught to use appropriate words when motivated to make it clear to the individual that communication has a function and to help individuals learn the right words to use within a given context.

Unestablished treatment options also exist and may be explored in more detail using credible resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionthe National Autism Center’s National Standards ProjectNational Institute of Health, and medical providers in your area.

What is Early Intervention?

Early intervention is offered to children with developmental delays or challenges ages birth until their third birthday.  This group of infants and toddlers have access to early intervention services inclusive of speech, occupational, physical and developmental therapies often conducted within the family’s home through Indiana’s First Steps program.  For more information about referrals or to contact your local First Steps agency, refer to the DDRS First Steps map


What is the Best Intervention for ASD?

The scientific literature on treatments for ASD continues to grow, with few guidelines for selecting the best treatment or intervention. Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, no two individuals with ASD will have the exact same behaviors, challenges, or skills–so, treatments and interventions should be individualized according to specific strengths and challenges. No single intervention is best for all individuals, and, oftentimes, the best approach involves a blending of strategies. ABA-based interventions with or without medication management have received the most empirical support in the literature. When considering treatment options, it is important to distinguish between those with empirical support and those without, and it is also helpful to follow certain steps throughout the treatment decision-making process:

  1. Conduct an assessment of the individual’s skills and behaviors before attempting to teach any new skills or implement certain interventions. Assessments may be completed by professionals such as psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, and licensed psychologists with expertise in childhood onset disorders and ASD.
  2. Select an intervention based on the assessment that focuses on the individual’s particular strengths and challenges
  3. Monitor and continually reevaluate the intervention program, making adjustments as necessary based on the individual’s progress toward established goals
  4. Ensure the staff providing the intervention is competently trained by asking questions about staff members’ background, experience, and credentials.
  5. Implement interventions one at a time to accurately track which has an effect on the individual and the extent to which the intervention is or is not successful.

How do I find a provider who works with individuals with ASD?

Often parents find it helpful to contact your school district as well as to talk with other parents in your area.  However, there are also a number of statewide organizations that can lend some assistance in finding a provider in your area.  A couple are noted below and in the resource section of the website.

What questions should I ask a provider about intervention services?

When discussing intervention services with a provider it’s important to ask questions that pertain to specific concerns regarding your child and their diagnosis or identified developmental delays. A provider should be more than willing to listen to your concerns and answer any questions you have. Listed below are a few suggested questions but certainly aren’t an exhaustive list as your questions should be tailored to your child’s and family’s needs:

  • What training have you received to provide intervention services?
  • What are your intervention goals for my child? Do the goals align with his/her current level of development?
  • How will your intervention sessions be tailored to meet the individual needs of my child?
  • How will you track my child’s progress?
  • How will you determine if my child is meeting his/her goals?
  • What will you do if my child is not making progress?
  • How do you plan to communicate about my child’s progress?
  • How can I be involved in sessions so we work together as a team?

Available Resources