Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Diagnosis, treatment, resources and ideas from other parents with children who have Autism.

Understand the diagnosis, know what to do next and access resources

Many parents have questions about the Autism diagnosis and what it means. The following are guidelines to help parents know what is Autism, how the diagnosis is reached, and what an Autism diagnosis means:

  • A team of professionals, with the Pediatrician leading the team, is required to reach an Autism diagnosis. The team approach is unique to Autism. The team may include school psychologists, counselors, parents, teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, etc. Parents working with the Pediatrician will know how to evaluate needs and create the team.
  • Autism exists on a spectrum so children with this diagnosis will not behave or demonstrate the exact same behaviors.
  • There is ongoing research and the terminology is constantly changing. Terms like “Aspergers” and “PDD NOS” are outdated terms that have been replaced in the newer editions of the diagnostic manuals used by professionals. Be aware and understand that changes to Autism may continue to occur.
  • Research has shown that vaccinations do not cause Autism. Currently there are no known causes of Autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnostic criteria

This is the criteria for Autism spectrum Disorder (ASD) from the DSM-5 (Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). Psychologists, Psychiatrists and other Mental Health professionals use these guidelines to determine diagnosis for your child.

Parents: Though not specifically stated, the Autism diagnosis should include your child’s physician to rule out physical and developmental disorders that may be the actual cause of behavior issues.

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive, see text).
  2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities, as manifested by at least two of the following, currently or by history (examples are illustrative, not exhaustive; see text).
  3. Symptoms must be present in the early developmental period (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities, or may be masked by learned strategies in later life).
  4. Symptoms cause clinically significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.
  5. These disturbances are not better explained by intellectual disability (intellectual developmental disorder) or global developmental delay. Intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder frequently co-occur; to make co-morbid diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, social communication should be below that expected for general developmental level.

Note: Individuals with a well-established DSM-5 diagnosis of autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, or pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified should be given the diagnosis of Autism spectrum disorder. Individuals who have marked deficits in social communication, but whose symptoms do not otherwise meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder, should be evaluated for social (pragmatic) communication disorder.


Diagnosis is confirmed. Now what?

Once the Autism diagnosis is confirmed you can begin to learn strategies and treatments for helping children with Autism. It is advised that parents seek out a physician well versed in treating Autism and who operates under the Medical Home Model and to seek out professionals who can assist in raising a happy and resilient child. The recommendations for treatment will vary depending on your child, age, specific manifestations and behaviors. Parents will always be an important part of treatment and implementing the recommendations at home. While difficult, it is important to remain calm. Becoming too emotional will cloud your reactions and may be more difficult to teach your child the skills they need to be successful.


It is helpful to research various Autism spectrum therapies and what will best serve your child’s needs based upon how Autism is manifested in your child. Knowing the how to deal with specific behavior will improve your relationship. Using the skills on Smarter Parenting will be helpful tool in your child’s Autism treatment. While all behavior skills are helpful, the skills of Decision Making (SODAS Method) and Corrective Behaviors will be especially helpful. You can see how to apply these behavior skills in the Behavior Skills tab on this page.

Treatment is most effective under a team approach with a physician using the Medical Home Model

The Medical Home Model is an approach where a medical physician is in charge of the overall treatment which includes a team of other professionals and parents. The team may consist of a mental health therapist, occupational therapists, nutritionist and other professional that may be necessary for the child. Your child’s physician knows what is needed for treatment, is the primary point of contact between the members of the team, and oversees the progress of treatment.

Early interventions

If you suspect that your child may have symptoms of Autism, make an appointment with your doctors as professionals agree that early intervention is best. Diagnosing early provides more time for parents and professionals to customize treatment for the child and for the treatment to become a normal part of the child’s life. Trying to make corrections when a child is older is doable, but more challenging. Children with Autism often struggle with change. Early intervention comes in many different methods.

Dietary interventions

Some parents report improvement in their child’s behavior because of a change in diet. Every child is different and parents should consult their physician when making changes in diets to address Autism.

Medical interventions

Medicine can be used to treat symptoms of behaviors but they do not treat Autism directly. Parents should always ask what the short-term and long-term side effects of medications may be for their child. Parents should also ask about the medicine and it’s history. Some questions parents can as are: What exactly will this medication address? It is a new drug or has it been around for a long time? How long was it initially tested and what were the results of those studies?


A list of the most popular therapy approaches for ASD

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

Through decades of research the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that may cause harm or interfere with learning. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) uses this principles to bring about meaningful and positive change in behavior by focusing on how learning takes place. Positive reinforcement is one such principle. When a behavior is followed by some sort of reward, the behavior is more likely to be repeated. When a behavior is followed by an reward or praise, the behavior will most likely happen again, while when a behavior is followed by a consequence that behavior is less likely to be repeated. The skill of Effective Praise supports this approach

Verbal Behavior (VB)

If your child has a difficultly communicating their needs, many therapist may use this approach to improve communication. Verbal Behavior Therapy uses the theories of B.F. Skinner to teach communication using the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis. This approach teaches the child to learn language by connecting words with their purposes. This approach focuses on why we use words and helps children understand that using words have a positive result. If a child is nonverbal, a parent can start by using other means of communication such as pointing to something or drawings. The purpose of this therapy is to improve communication between parent and child. The steps of Effective Communication support this approach.


Floortime is exactly as it sounds. It encourages parents to literally get on their children’s levels and get on the floor to play and communicate. Parents can combine this approach with other behavioral therapies. By engaging with a child in an activity they enjoy, parents can begin to direct their children in simple tasks and, eventually, in more complex interactions. The approach was developed by child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan, MD and Serena Weider, PhD. Smarter Parenting encourages parents to use games and activities as a way to teach new behaviors. Under each behavior skill you will find games and activities.


Developed by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in the 1960’s to help those diagnosed with ASD to learn skills, it has a long history of being empirically tested and evidenced based. In 1972 it became a statewide program in North Carolina with a set curriculum and trained professionals. Parents can ask their physician about this approach and if there is a trained clinician in their area.


This approach is home-based, relationship based play therapy. Parents are trained in the Son-Rise Program at the Autism Treatment Center of America, the division of The Option Institute, in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Parents are taught to engage with their child through stimming behaviors rather than trying to eliminating the behaviors as a way to help children interact and learn social skills. There are some criticism of this approach. However, a 2013 peer reviewed journal published an article supporting this approach.


The acronym SCERTS refers to the focus on: SC: Social Communication. ER: Emotional Regulation. TS: Transactional Support. SCERTS is usually applied by a trained professional, usually in a school setting. Parents can ask if schools have a qualified SCERTS professional available.


Most parents will benefit from teaching their Autistic child basic skills. When teaching a child behavior skills, it is best to begin with one or two simple skills and add more as the child develops. Parents find that learning how to walk through their responses to their child’s behavior using Decision Making (SODAS Method) is beneficial in allowing them to remain calm and in control. The behavior skill of Preventive Teaching and Correcting Behaviors are helpful skills to teach a child with ASD.​

Decision Making (SODAS Method) and Autism

Children with ASD do best with consistency. Setting up a consistent ways to respond to situations with your child will save you time and, ultimately, frustration. Using the skill of Decision Making (SODAS Method) helps you work through your response to specific situations you know will be difficult for your child.

Tips for parents using this skill for ASD

  • Know your limits and what you’ll be able to be consistent with.
  • Practice the steps with someone else to make sure you can do it, before you practice it with your child.
  • Practice with your child at a neutral time.
  • Stay consistent—even when it’s hard.

Preventive Teaching and Autism

Children with ASD may have a difficult time dealing with new situations. Using the skill of Preventive Teaching helps prepare your child beforehand and that preparation can lead to less meltdowns and blowups.


Watch how a mom used Preventive Teaching to help prevent negative behavior from her Autistic children.

Tips for parents using this skill for ASD

  • Be patient.
  • Break down tasks to smaller tasks if things are too frustrating for your child.
  • More frequent practicing will make the new behavior more and more likely to repeat.
  • Be consistent. Keep practicing it until the new behavior is mastered.
  • Be patient. I know we said this already but it’s important to be patient and consistent.


Correcting Behaviors and Autism

Children with Autism will need to have their behavior corrected. This skill provides steps for parents to follow when correcting a negative behavior that will help the child improve while increasing their relationship.

Tips for parents using this skill for ASD

  • In describing the behavior you want your child to do (step 5), it will be important to demonstrate exactly how you want them to behave. You may have to show them what you expect a number of times.
  • The most powerful aspect is to practice what you expect. Practice as many times as need until your child is able to respond correctly.
  • Be patient.
  • Remain calm.
  • If your child is nonverbal, you can still use this skill but will need to focus on demonstrating.
  • Don’t promise a reward before practicing. Provide one (if you want) AFTER they are able to do the new behavior well.

This is an important skill to use when correcting negative behavior because it allows your child to know what they need to do and then gives them the ability to practicing it themselves. Practicing helps your child internalize the correct behavior.

These two skills will be beneficial to ASD child. Let us know your experience using this skill. We would love to hear from you.

Smarter Parenting blog posts

Autism series part 1: Demystifying the autism diagnosis

Autism series part II: What to expect after an official ASD diagnosis

Autism series part III: How to choose an ASD treatment option for your child

Autism series part IV: 4 ways to treat Autism with medication and natural supplements

Autism series part V: Sometimes kids just blow up!

Autism series part VI: “Her excellency” The routine

Autism series part VII: The argument against gluten-free diets

Autism series part VIII: Treating Autism with therapy pets

Autism series part IX: Reaching through the barriers of Autism with communication

Autism series part X: Creating the right treatment plan for your child

Free printable: Routine charts for Autism

Visit our YouTube Channel for additional ASD parenting help

Additional resources provided by Caring4OurKids

Autism Resources for Families

Sesame Street Autism Resources for Parents

Reduce the Noise: Help Loved Ones with Sensory Overload Enjoy Shopping

Creating a Home Where Your Child Can Thrive with a Disability

CDC Autism Links and Resources

Estate Planning for Parents of Special Needs Kids

Planning for the Future for Seniors with Special Needs

Operation Autism for Military Families

Moving with Special Needs Kids

Temple Grandin’s Teaching Tips

Caring4OurKids is an organization of parents who have children on the Autism Spectrum and other issues. They provide great information for parents. You can read more about them on their website.

The following resources may be helpful

National Autism Association Interacting with Autism - Understand what it is like to have Autism and explore treatment options. The website is filled with videos, articles and interviews. Autism Apps ​Advice from Parents with Children with Autism

Chore Chart: Build a Knight

A chore chart perfect for young children or those with Autism.

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Chore Chart: Move-Along Princess

A chore chart perfect for young children or those with Autism.

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Chore Chart: Move-Along Knight

A chore chart perfect for young children or those with Autism.

 Download   Share   View 

Chore Chart: Build a Fairy

A chore chart perfect for young children or those with Autism.

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