Treatment Goals for Autism

Little girl coloring

Treatment goals for autism should be tailored to each autistic person. Since every case of autism is unique, intervention goals will vary. If you are developing a set of goals for your child, this guide can help you figure out how to set personalized treatment objectives.

Treatment Goals for Autism Guide

Setting treatment goals can help you figure out which areas your child needs improvement in, the best type of treatment to achieve the objectives and a parameter from which to track your child's progress.

General Goal Setting Tips

The following tips can help you set goals for your child's autism treatment:

  • Research available autism treatments to find out the latest studies and get a general idea of the treatment's record of success.
  • Get advice from your child's doctors, therapists and teachers on the best treatment options for your child. If your child just received a diagnosis of autism, get recommendations from your doctor on how to start intervention. For a child already in treatment, talk with any additional therapists or teachers to get an idea of your child's current developmental and educational needs.
  • Observe your child to get an idea of his development level, interests, sensory issues, preferences and how he prefers to learn.
  • Talk to autism support groups and find out which treatments are working for other families.

Once you have a complete picture of your child's needs and available interventions, you can determine appropriate goals.

Speech and Language Goals

Children with autism often have problems with speech, language and developing a vocabulary. The difficulties range from nonverbal to limited speech. Some high functioning children have large vocabulary but trouble understanding word context and appropriate speech. Other children may also have problems with voice tone and may speak in monotone or unusually high or low voices. Ask a licensed speech-language therapist for assistance in setting goals. Typical speech and language goals may include:

  • Encourage verbal speech
  • Understand word meanings and context
  • Learn a nonverbal communication system, such as the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) or sign language
  • Use functional language
  • Encourage give-and-take interactions

Communication Goals

Improving communication is vital in helping a child with autism learn, express herself and interact with the world. Many autistic children have trouble in areas such self expression, following verbal instruction or carrying on a conversation. A speech-language therapist can help you set goals to assist your child in the following areas:

Social Skills Goals

Social interaction is another area of difficulty experienced by many children with autism. A number of autism treatments deal with building social skills, such as Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) and Dr. Stanley Greenspan's DIR/Floortime Model. A number of children with autism prefer solitude, and either have no interest in socializing with peers or have problems making friends. The desire for solitude also may extend to not wanting to spend much time interacting with parents or siblings. Play therapy that includes games and other child-led activities can help the child get comfortable with social interaction and playing with others. Social Stories, developed by The Gray Center, and visual aids can help a child better understand common social situations as well as teach manners and appropriate social responses. Goals to improve social skills may include:

  • Understand common social situations
  • Build an interest in interacting with others
  • Learn manners and etiquette

Behavioral Goals

Autism symptoms may also deal with behavioral issues, such as stimming, obsessions, self-harm, tantrums or unusual rituals. Sensory integration therapy can help address many self-stimulating or stimming behaviors like hand flapping or head banging. Applied behavioral analysis is also an effective way to encourage positive behavior and can help reduce tantrums and obsessive behaviors. Behavioral goals might include:

  • Use healthy outlets for stimming, such as a sensory room
  • Reduce tantrums
  • Demonstrate basic manners at the dinner table
  • Talk about more than one favorite subject

Educational Goals

Children with autism may also have problems learning in traditional classroom environments and may be behind their peers due to communication difficulties and attention deficit issues. Since many autistic children have difficulty following verbal instruction, visual aids are very helpful at home and in the classroom. Individual Education Plans (IEP) are vital to helping an autistic child meet educational goals whether in special education or an inclusive classroom. The Individuals with Disabilities Act mandates that all American children with special needs have the right to an IEP. Here are some educational goals:

  • Follow the teacher's instruction
  • Stay focused on classroom activities
  • Complete tasks with minimal prompting
  • Engage in interactions with other students and the teacher

Life Skills Goals

Some children with severe autism will also need help with life skills for daily living. An occupational therapist can help you develop goals for the following types of life skills:

  • Get potty trained
  • Dress independently
  • Eat meals without assistance
  • Basic hygiene

Achieving Goals

After establishing treatment goals for autism, help your child achieve them. Here are some tips for achieving treatment goals:

  • Set realistic goals. Be aware of your child's current development level and what is possible for this stage when setting goals.
  • Set small and large goals. Set small goals so that you can celebrate each achievement in steps. Celebrating both small and large goals can help encourage your child to make progress.
  • Don't become discouraged when your child regresses because it can be temporary. Take heart in knowing she will make progress again soon.
  • Praise all of your child's efforts whether he fulfills a goal or not. Your child needs your praise for every effort to build confidence.
  • Be flexible and constantly observe your child's needs and adjust goals to meet them.

The right treatment goals for autism can make all the difference in your child's progress.

Treatment Goals for Autism