Autism is a lifelong disorder but there are many things that you can do to improve your child’s skills or reduce unconstructive behaviours.   We find at Autism NT that there is no one size fits all approach to therapies. Persons with ASD may respond to one practitioner and not another so it will be a case of trial and error. One therapy may work well for a while and then may need to be tweaked or altered in some way down the track. It is important to keep open and direct communication with your health care provider. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek a second opinion.

Therapies and services can include:

Cognitive therapy

Psychologists – They work on changing thoughts, behaviour and emotions using different therapies and approaches. You’re most likely to see a psychologist if you or your child needs:

  • counselling to help with life’s problems, such as grief, trauma or relationship issues
  • educational and developmental support to help with learning difficulties, disorders such as ADHD or difficult behaviour, or with developing social skills
  • help to deal with mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and stress [1]

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that helps people to change unhelpful or unhealthy thinking habits, feelings and behaviours. CBT may be used to treat problems including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, uncontrollable anger, substance abuse, eating disorders and other problems. [2]

Play Therapy

In this non directive Play Therapy approach, the Play Therapist enters the world of the child, following the child’s lead, developing a safe place and a relationship of trust. Children often have difficulty trying to say in words what they feel and how experiences have affected them. Play is the natural language of children and the toys can be their words. Through the toys, art materials and other things in the playroom, children can express their thoughts and feelings, explore relationships and share about their experiences. [3]

Speech therapy

A speech pathologist is a university-trained health professional who works with anyone who has trouble communicating. This could be trouble with:

  • speech
  • language, including reading and writing
  • fluency – for example, stuttering
  • voice

Speech pathologists help people find the best way to communicate to meet their needs. This could include signs, symbols, gestures and other forms of assisted communication. Speech pathologists also help people who have trouble swallowing food and drink. [4]

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) – PECS uses picture symbols to teach communication skills. The person is taught to use picture symbols to ask and answer questions and have a conversation.


Specifically designed for parents of verbal children ages 3-7 with social communication difficulties, the TalkAbility Program teaches parents practical ways to help their child learn people skills. The program helps children to “tune in” to the thoughts and feelings of others by paying attention to non-verbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, eye gaze, and tone of voice. The ability to consider other points of view and to have empathy for others is essential for successful conversations and for making friends. [5]

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapists are university-trained health professionals who help people improve their ability to do the everyday things that they want or need to do. Occupational therapists help people to:

  • improve their ability to look after themselves – for example, eat, dress, or complete personal hygiene tasks
  • take part in tasks at work, school or preschool
  • enjoy leisure activities.

OTs consider all areas of your child’s development, including thinking, speech, language, gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Occupational therapists also look at your child’s environment, including physical, social or legislative barriers that can make life hard for your child, and try to find ways of improving the environment or working around these barriers.[6]

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is for people who have Sensory Integrative Dysfunction, or have trouble understanding sensory input. Sensory integration therapy is used to help children learn to use all their senses together (touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing). It’s claimed this can improve the challenging behaviours that are caused by a difficulty in processing sensory information.

DIR®/Floortime™ Model

The DIR®/Floortime™ Model is also known as the Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-Based Model. It focuses on promoting development by encouraging children to interact with parents and others through play. It’s thought that this interaction will help children reach milestones in their emotional development.

Physical therapy

Persons with ASD can have gross motor delays and have low muscle tone. Physical therapy can build up strength, coordination, and basic sports skills.

Social integration skills

Many children with ASD struggle with social and communication skills. Children can benefit from programs that are designed to build the skills they need to hold a conversation, develop empathy, maintain friendships and problem solve.

Secret Agent Society

The Secret Agent Society (SAS) is a social skills development program for children with social and emotional difficulties. The SAS program uses animated technology, spy gadgets and games to teach new social and emotional skills to children who struggle with friendships and feelings. SAS gives children step-by-step examples of how to make and keep friends, cope with bullying and deal with emotions such as anxiety and anger. It also uses a highly interactive spy-themed computer game with different levels of challenges and adventures so the sessions feel like fun, not therapy.

Lego Therapy

LEGO Therapy is a play therapy. In an indirect way, the child is taught skills in how to communicate with others, express feelings, modify behaviour and develop problem-solving skills. It also provides a non-threatening social group based around a common interest.

Diet & Biomedical Approaches

Dietitians have qualifications and skills to give you expert nutrition and dietary advice. Many persons diagnosed with ASD have responded positively to changes within their diet.

Gluten Free/Dairy Free Diet

This therapy involves eliminating foods containing the proteins gluten (a protein found in wheat), or casein (a protein found in milk) or both from the diet of a person with autism. Supporters of elimination diets claim that it reduces characteristics of autism by minimising disruption to brain function. According to the theory, such disruptions can be caused by problems with diet and digestion.

Vitamins & Minerals

Certain vitamins such as B6, Magnesium and fish oil may be of benefit to a person with ASD. Although vitamins and minerals are available in many health food stores and pharmacies, it is always best to speak to your GP or paediatrician, or a dietitian, before use.


Mindd Foundation helps practitioners and patients discover and implement effective treatments for Metabolic, Immunologic, Neurologic, Digestive, Developmental conditions that often affect the mind. Our focus is on paediatric disorders such as ADHD, Asthma, allergies, autism, chronic illness, depression, learning and language delay, and digestive and behavioural disorders. Research is showing that these children are coming from families with a history of “brain-immuno-gut disorders” triggered by toxins, malnutrition and infections.

Parent focussed training

Parents can access a variety of training courses or coaching sessions that are designed to help them develop the skills necessary to manage their child’s behaviour and development. Skills are taught that will assist parents to identify, define and appropriately respond to positive and negative behaviours.

Relationship Development Integration (RDI)

Relationship Development Intervention® (RDI®) is a parent-led approach that focuses on teaching children how to develop social skills and dynamic thinking. Children learn how to engage and form close relationships with others. Through the RDI® program, parents are trained in techniques and strategies that make use of everyday activities to support the child’s social development. Parents work with a consultant trained in the approach. [7]

123 Magic

The 1-2-3 Magic and Emotion Coaching program aims to teach parents how to deal with their children’s difficult behaviour by using an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use signalling system to manage children’s difficult behaviour. The signalling system requires the parent to use less talk and less emotion, which in turn encourages the development of children’s ability to manage their emotional reactions to parental boundaries (or emotional competency). [8]

Triple P Parenting

Triple P gives parents simple and practical strategies to help them confidently manage their children’s behaviour, prevent problems developing and build strong, healthy relationships. [9]

Positive Partnerships

Positive Partnerships helps parents to foster productive school-family-community. They offer free, evidence-based workshops for parents and carers, professional development for teachers and school leaders, and online learning.[10]

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is not a therapy in itself, but a theory or a set of principles on which some therapies are based. The theory identifies various teaching techniques that generally involve breaking down complex skills (or behaviours) into smaller steps and teaching them through the use of clear instructions, rewards and repetition. [11]

Cost and effectiveness of therapies

Costs for therapies and services will vary. Some therapies can be quite expensive. There are ways to alleviate these costs such as accessing government financial support opportunities and participating in group rather than individual therapies. To see if a therapy has documented evidence of success, we suggest discussing therapies with your health care provider, talking to other families and by researching the following website:

Raising Children – guide to therapies based on empirical studies

The Guide is designed to offer you reliable information about a wide range of therapies and interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Each short therapy guide:

  • describes a particular therapy and the idea behind its approach
  • assesses the research that supports the therapy, and tells you if there is no reliable research
  • estimates the time and costs involved in using the therapy.

Finding local services

Your health care provider can help you find appropriate therapies for your child. Autism NT provides social skill training groups and opportunities for parent training. We can also assist with local contacts for services. Please contact the Autism NT office for further information.