Autism Index
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methodologies of teaching autism

Behavioral therapy is my favorite therapy so far because it can be used for a wide variety of behaviors and skills.  Behavioral Therapy is an autism teaching strategy to correct a child's behavior (rather it's throwing a tantrum, getting eye contact or teaching social skills) and includes these techniques:

Discrete trials include mass and expanded trials.

  • breakdown of tasks into small units
  • systematic use of reinforcement (food, praise or toy)
  • verbally simple using clear and straightforward language
Receptive language (understanding of language)

Expressive language (spoken use of language)

Action on object command ("Put the toy on the chair.")

Errorless teaching with most-to-least prompting.

Prompting:  positional, physical, gestural, verbal, and visual.  

Assists with focus and student being able to sit still.

ABA therapy is sometimes also called “discreet trial training” or the Lovaas Method. Pioneered by Dr. O. Ivaar Lovaas, professor emeritus at the University of California at Los Angeles, it is an early intervention program for children as young as 2 or 3 years old. ABA therapy refers to a wide variety of techniques that use rewards to develop new skills or reduce unwanted behaviors, like aggression or self-injury. Skills, such as learning to make eye contact, are developed one at a time. ABA is a highly structured, adult-led program (the adult directs the activity while the child follows along) intended to prepare a child to enter kindergarten by age 5 or 6. It involves intensive one-on-one instruction between the child and a therapist or parent. The therapy takes place in the home or school for as many as 20 to 40 hours per week.

ABA is backed by the strongest scientific support of any autism treatment, mostly based on Lovaas’s original 1987 study in which he cited a 47 percent recovery rate. However, no other study has replicated Lovaas’s results. ABA is recognized for its effectiveness in helping children learn language and cognitive skills, but critics charge that the rigid structure does not build social skills and that children tend to become more robotic in their responses and less spontaneous in adapting to real-world situations.

Pivotal Response Training or PRT is an approach based on the ABA method but is considered to be more naturalistic, meaning that instruction takes place in a relaxed environment and the teaching is child-centered, or guided by the child’s interests, motivations and favorite activities. Researchers believe that “pivotal behaviors” affect a range of responses in children with autism. Because these behaviors influence a diverse area of functions, positive changes can have a ripple effect on other behaviors. In PRT therapy, instructions and rewards are more varied than with traditional ABA. PRT is offered through clinics and school programs. 

Floortime was developed by Drs. Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder.  It is an alternative behavorial approach focused on helping children build fundamental skills needed for communication and relationships. It is primarily a home-based technique that enlists professional helpers to work alongside parents and their children. The adults get down on the floor with the child and follow the child’s natural interests.

Some critics say there is not enough scientific research supporting the effectiveness of DIR Floortime and that children with more severe autism may not be well-served by such a child-centered program. However, the Floortime Foundation claims that in a review of 200 children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders who were treated intensively with DIR Floortime for up to six years, more than 50 percent have "become warm, engaged and loving."

Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH) is an approach developed in 1964 at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The classroom-based program evolved from the theory that children with autism have strong visual skills and respond well to visual cues and symbols. Instead of using rewards for behavior modification, TEACCH emphasizes picture systems to develop organizational skills and help children better understand what is expected of them. TEACCH is based on brain research that suggests people with autism have more difficulty switching their attention from one task to another. The approach focuses on helping children transition more smoothly from one activity to the next.

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