Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is an umbrella term that encompasses autism, pervasive developmental disorders, and Asperger’s syndrome. If you have been diagnosed with autism or you’re parenting a child that’s been diagnosed with ASD, finding the right therapist can be overwhelming.
In this article, we’ve looked at platforms that can help to connect you with an autism therapist. We’ve also explained the most common therapeutic approaches used for treating autism and autism spectrum disorders.
Note: we may receive compensation if you become a paying customer of a therapy service we link to.
Autism therapist near me
Below, we’ve looked at two places you can find a therapist to help you or your family member with autism spectrum disorder.
BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can connect you with a therapist who has extensive experience in treating autism spectrum disorder. All the therapists on this platform are licensed, accredited professionals offering help for a wide variety of issues, including autism spectrum disorder.
The signup process with BetterHelp is quite straightforward. To get started, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire that helps BetterHelp find the best possible therapist for your needs.
The questionnaire will ask about your therapy needs, and the types of issues you need help with. You will have the opportunity to explain that you’re looking for an autism therapist.
BetterHelp will also ask if you’re looking for therapists for yourself or your child, if it’s your child that has autism spectrum disorder. Once you’ve signed up, BetterHelp will match you with an appropriate therapist, who has experience in helping people (including children) with autism.
Once you’ve been connected with a therapist, you will typically have a live video session each week, depending on your availability. In between each session, you have the ability to message your autism therapist, to get immediate help with any challenges that arise – they will respond during business hours.
You also have the ability to change therapists at any time, and for any reason. Plus, you can book your sessions that a time that works for you, and your child. Sessions can be booked outside of business hours if you’d prefer, which can be quite helpful if you work full time.
2. Neurodivergent Therapists
This website is an online directory that helps connect people with autism spectrum disorder with therapists in their state.
The Neurodivergent Therapists Directory differs from BetterHelp in its approach to treating ASD and other neurodivergent disorders, in that this directory lists only neurodiversity-affirming therapists.
Neurodiversity-affirming therapists approach their clients with the understanding that autism spectrum disorders aren’t disorders per se, but individual neurotypes with their unique strengths, needs, and challenges.
All therapists on this listing share a neurotype, which means they are all experiencing some sort of neurodevelopmental issue, including autism spectrum disorder. Neurodivergent Therapists Directory helps connect neurodivergent clients with neurodivergent therapists.
Therapy offered on the site is centered around the neurodiversity paradigm, an approach that seeks not to “fix” people on the spectrum, but instead offers techniques and strategies to recognize their unique traits and strengths.
On this site, you can read therapists’ biographies, as well as their credentials. Each counselor is a licensed professional, who specializes in treating a wide variety of disorders. On the site, you can find the therapists’ contact information, phone and email, and some have links to their web pages where you can see how much the therapy costs.
You will have to check whether the directory has any therapists from your area, because they don’t currently have therapists in all US states. This is the main disadvantage to this directory, but it’s also important to note that you’ll need to contact therapists and find the best professional yourself, rather than being matched with a counselor like on BetterHelp.
Online vs face-to-face autism therapy
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex condition that may require different therapeutic approaches depending on its severity. For this reason, it has previously been thought that online therapy couldn’t treat autism as effectively as face-to-face therapy.
However, in recent years, studies have shown the clear benefits of online therapy in treating autism.
Autism treatment is extremely time-consuming. For example, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), one of the most efficient autism treatments, takes up approximately 26 to 40 hours a week, depending on the severity of the disorder. Usually, this isn’t the only type of therapy that children have to partake in to effectively deal with autism.
The online version of this type of therapy wouldn’t be much shorter, but it avoids having to travel to your therapist every day, and sit in traffic. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an adult with autism or a parent of an autistic child, you can save a lot of time by attending online sessions.
Another benefit of online therapy is the ability to participate in sessions from your own home, which can mean a lot to autistic children, because they can relax and be more comfortable getting help in their own environment.
A study on autism therapy by Stanford Medicine researchers, which used the behavioral method of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT), found that this type of treatment becomes easier when applied online.
The core principle of this method is getting the patient with ASD to engage in a desired behavior, which in this example is a meaningful conversation about a subject matter that the patient finds interesting. The study found that online sessions made finding a specific subject the patient is interested in easier and faster, allowing therapy to achieve greater progress in less time.
However, if you or your child have more severe behavioral issues associated with autism, and you are in need of immediate, close assistance, it is a good idea to seek out treatment in-person – especially if your child is at risk of hurting themselves or others through their behavior.
What certifications do autism therapists have?
When searching for an ASD therapist, it can be helpful to find a professional who is certified to help treat autism and related disorders.
There are a few different certifications that are relevant:
- A Certified Autism Specialist (CAS) is an individual who specializes in providing support and service to people with ASD. In order to obtain this certificate, the therapist has to have a graduate degree, at least two years of experience working with autism, and must pass an autism competency test.
- A Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) specializes in communication and social skills. To become an SLP, a person must graduate in speech pathology, and pass a speech-language examination.
Some other certifications to look for when searching for an ASD therapist are Autism Certificate (AC), Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), all of which require extensive training, and passing an autism competency exam. The first certification is a broader one for people who have experience working with autism, while the latter two are for more specific roles in the process of helping with behavior modification, issued by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
Therapies used to treat ASD
There are a number of different psychotherapeutic and other treatments used to help people with autism spectrum disorder.
This set of methods and techniques focuses on behavioral symptoms that people with autism spectrum disorder might have, such as restrictive, repetitive behavior, or anger management issues.
Some examples of these behaviors are repetitive motor movements, like hand flapping, or lining up items, and restrictive behavior such as having to take the same route every day, or requiring that activities are completed in the same order. Straying from these routines can sometimes cause anxiety or even aggression in people with ASD.
One of the widely used therapies for treating these behaviors is Applied Behavioral Analysis or ABA for short. ABA encourages desired behavior and discourages undesired behavior with the goal of improving your quality of life.
This therapeutic approach most commonly uses two distinct teaching styles: Discrete Trial Training (DTT) and Pivotal Response Training (PRT).
- Discrete Trial Training (DTT) offers step-by-step instructions to teach desired behaviors. For example, a complex behavior might be broken down into smaller sections, and each section would be encouraged or discouraged, such as through practical activities, especially in a clinical setting, with the help of a trainer.
- Pivotal Response Training (PRT) is a more immersive strategy that focuses on learning desired behaviors in natural rather than clinical settings. For example, a child might start talking about a stuffed animal, and since conversation is a desired behavior, the child will be encouraged to continue this behavior, and play with their stuffed animal.
Applied Behavioral Analysis is a useful approach when treating adults, too. With this approach, adults with autism can learn some specific behaviors, such as dining in a restaurant or using public transportation.
However, since Applied Behavioral Analysis is a behavioral approach based on conditioning, it’s important to note that changing adult behaviors and overriding years of learned behaviors often takes time and patience. It may take months or even years of ABA treatment to help you achieve a better quality of life.
People with autism can have significantly impaired developmental skills, such as physical or communicational skills. Developmental approaches are often combined with a behavioral approach to improve developmental skills.
One of the most commonly used techniques in this approach is Speech and Language Therapy, aimed at improving the person’s understanding and use of speech and language. This type of treatment is sometimes carried out by a Speech-Language Pathologist.
Another important technique is Occupational Therapy, which seeks to help people with ASD live as independently as possible.
Developmental approaches can be helpful to adults with autism, as well. Speech and language therapy is used to improve verbal and non-verbal communication, and occupational therapy can help people to become more comfortable with daily tasks.
With impaired communication and language skills, navigating social situations and reading social cues can be difficult for people with autism.
Social-relational models focus on increasing the person’s engagement, motivation, and interest by encouraging parents, therapists, and peers to interact with the person and improve their communication and social skills. These techniques might include playtime or storytelling, for example.
There’s even the possibility of participating in social skills groups that provide an inclusive environment for people with ASD to practice social skills.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective psychotherapeutic approaches used to help improve people’s mental health. In terms of autism, it encompasses understanding social situations and recognizing emotions, as well as connecting thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
Dealing with autism can be stressful, and can even cause anxiety or depressive symptoms. CBT helps alter negative beliefs and thoughts and establish healthier thought patterns, through a process of talk therapy.
There are instances when pharmacotherapy might be prescribed to people with ASD. It’s important to note that there is no medication that cures autism or autism spectrum disorders, but it can be prescribed for treating some specific symptoms.
For example, people with ASD might experience anxiety, depressive symptoms, high energy levels, or even sleep problems. A psychiatrist might prescribe medication to make these symptoms more bearable.
If you think you or your child might need pharmacotherapy, make sure to talk to your doctor or a psychiatrist. A therapist can also help explore your options in this area.
Autism and other autism spectrum disorders are complex issues with many different therapeutic approaches. Deciding which one is the best for you or your child is a difficult decision that takes a lot of research.
Platforms such as BetterHelp and Neurodivergent Therapists make finding a proper professional for autism treatment easier and more convenient.
If you’re still not sure how to find the right therapist for help with autism, feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.
About the author
I am a freelance writer and psychology undergraduate from Croatia, a thesis away from my Master’s degree. I have received a Rector’s Award in the field of clinical psychology and have experience in working with people struggling with anxiety disorders and depression.
My goal is to help people get a better understanding of their struggles, free themselves from the grasp of their disorder and take back control of their lives. I’m a firm believer that anyone can improve their overall wellbeing, when armed with the right knowledge and tools.