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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Effective Practices and Interventions in the Community

There is no cure for autism. However, children with autism who receive intensive, individualized interventions early in life often see positive effects and tremendous growth. Most professionals agree that the earlier the intervention, the better.

There are many different treatments and interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders, but not every treatment works for every person. Most individuals with ASD receive multiple interventions from a number of different providers in several service delivery systems.  It is important to match a treatment or intervention with the needs and strengths of your child. Treatment options include educational and behavioral interventions, medications, and other therapies. Before deciding on a treatment for your child, learn and research the different options, discuss them with your child’s doctor and specialists, and think about what will work best for your family. Whatever treatment you decide on, keep in mind that intervention outcomes are significantly enhanced when professionals and families collaborate and when parents play an active role in implementing and coordinating interventions.

Evidence-Based Interventions

Evidence-based interventions are intentional interventions that have been researched and demonstrate proven behavioral change. Efficacy, or effectiveness for evidence-based interventions must be established through peer-reviewed research in scientific journals. These interventions are determined effective based on professional judgment, data-based decision making, the capacity to successfully implement the intervention, and the values and preferences of families and individuals with ASD.

How to evaluate research and interventions

  • Who conducted the research?
  • How current is the research?
  • Is there sufficient evidence that the intervention is effective?
  • Is the research presented as a systematic review? If not, has the research been peer-reviewed by qualified researchers?

The following is a list of effective evidence-based interventions that have been gathered from the National Autism Center, The National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Missouri Autism Guidelines Initiative. Prior to implementation of any interventions, consult with professionals and receive training if necessary to ensure adequate implementation across school and home settings.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT) is a one-to-one instructional approach used to teach skills in a planned, controlled, and systematic manner. DTT is characterized by repeated, or massed, trials that have a definite beginning and end. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for preschoolers (3-5 years) to elementary school-age learners (6-11 years) with ASD. DTT can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, joint attention, school readiness, academic, adaptive, and vocational skills.

Naturalistic Intervention (NI) is a collection of practices including environmental arrangement, interaction techniques, and strategies based on applied behavior analysis principles. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for toddlers (0-2 years) to elementary school-age learners (6-11 years) with ASD. NI can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, joint attention, play, and academic skills.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)  is used to teach learners to communicate in a social context. Using PECS, learners are initially taught to give a picture of a desired item to a communicative partner in exchange for the item. There are six phases of PECS instruction: (1) “how” to communicate, (2) distance and persistence, (3) picture discrimination, (4) sentence structure, (5) responsive requesting, and (6) commenting. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for preschoolers (3-5 years) to middle school-age learners (12-14 years) with ASD. PECS can be used effectively to address social, communication, and joint attention skills.

Pivotal Response Training (PRT) is a naturalistic intervention based on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) to teach learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). PRT builds on learner initiative and interests, and is particularly effective for developing communication, language, play, and social behaviors. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for toddlers (0-2 years) to middle school-age learners (12-14 years) with ASD. PRT can be used effectively to address social, communication, joint attention, and play skills.

Self-management (SM) is an intervention package that teaches learners to independently regulate their own behavior. Self-management involves teaching learners to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, accurately monitor and record their own behaviors, and reinforce themselves for behaving appropriately. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for preschoolers (3-5 years) to young adults (19-22 years) with ASD. SM can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, play, school-readiness, academic, and vocational skills.

Social Narratives (SN) are interventions that describe social situations in some detail by highlighting relevant cues and offering examples of appropriate responding. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for preschoolers (3-5 years) to high school-age learners (15-18 years) with ASD. SN can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, joint attention, play, school-readiness, academic, and adaptive skills.

Social Skills Training (SST) involves group or individual instruction designed to teach learners to appropriately interact with typically developing peers. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for toddlers (0-2 years) to young adults (19-22 years) with ASD. SST can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, play, and cognitive skills.

Structured Play Groups (SPG) are interventions using small groups to teach a broad range of outcomes. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for elementary school-age learners (6-11 years) with ASD. SPG can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, play, school-readiness, and academic skills.

Technology-Aided Instruction and Intervention (TAII) are those in which technology is the central feature of an intervention that supports the goal or outcome for the student. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for preschoolers (3-5 years) to young adults (19-22 years) with ASD. TAII can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, joint attention, cognitive, school-readiness, academic, motor, adaptive, and vocational skills.

Video Modeling (VM) is a method of instruction that uses video recording and display equipment to provide a visual model of the targeted behavior or skill. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for toddlers (0-2 years) to young adults (19–22) years with ASD. VM can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, joint attention, play, cognitive, school-readiness, academic, motor, adaptive, and vocational skills.

Visual Supports (VS) are concrete cues that provide information about an activity, routine, or expectation and/or support skill demonstration. According to the evidence-based studies, this intervention has been effective for toddlers (0-2 years) to young adults (19-22 years) with ASD. Visual supports can be used effectively to address social, communication, behavior, play, cognitive, school-readiness, academic, motor, and adaptive skills.

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