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How to Help a Child with Autism

Early intervention is the key to improving the outlook for a child with autism, a neurological disorder that impairs communication and social skills. Here are several strategies you may want to consider.


  • Step 1: Take your child for a complete medical exam. Some behavioral problems associated with autism, like temper tantrums, can sometimes be reduced if physical problems common in children with autism, such as gastrointestinal issues and allergies, are alleviated.
  • Step 2: Put your child on a gluten-free, casein-free diet, which means no barley, rye, oats, wheat, or dairy. Many families of children with autism have had good results – but only if the diet is followed to the letter, no exceptions.
  • TIP: To make sure your child is getting the proper nutrients despite these restrictions, consult a nutritionist or dietitian.
  • Step 3: Get your child started on speech therapy as soon as possible. If your child is nonverbal, try PECS, which stands for Picture Exchange Communication System. This technique, which uses picture cards, may encourage them to speak.
  • Step 4: Get your child sensory-integration therapy, which has been proven effective in helping children with autism become less sensitive to light, sound, and touch.
  • Step 5: Hire an occupational therapist to help them with skills they'll need for an independent life. Depending on the child, this can be anything from physical coordination to anger management.
  • Step 6: Use applied behavioral analysis, or ABA, the only intervention approved by the Surgeon General's Office. ABA is a one-on-one approach to teaching children how to react appropriately to everyday social situations with the help of rewards. Parents can either hire an ABA-trained therapist or learn the technique themselves.
  • Step 7: Try other therapies. Most children with autism benefit from a combination of treatments.
  • TIP: A popular exercise is "floortime," in which the parent or other caregivers get on the floor with the child and mimic how they play, to encourage them to let others join in the fun.
  • Step 8: Consider verbal behavior intervention, which is designed to develop language skills through motivation and reinforcement.
  • Step 9: Test the TEACCH approach, which customizes an education program to the child's strengths and weaknesses. Because children with autism tend to be visual learners, the program is structured around visual clues.
  • TIP: Some autism experts think the TEACCH system tries to incorporate too many interventions, and winds up diluting them.
  • Step 10: Consider becoming trained in Relationship Development Intervention, or RDI, which suggests everyday things parents can do at home to help their child adapt to changes and be more open to interacting with others.
  • Step 11: Enroll your child in school when they turn three. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that states provide special education services to children with disabilities, beginning at this age.
  • Step 12: Stay up-to-date on autism research; new therapies are being tested and developed all the time.
  • FACT: For more information on autism therapies, resources, and support, visit

You Will Need

  • A medical workup
  • A gluten-free
  • casein-free diet
  • Speech
  • occupational
  • and alternative therapies
  • School enrollment
  • A nutritionist or dietitian (optional) (optional) (optional)

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