Navigating the Types of Exceptional Needs Therapy

As awareness of Autism and other exceptional needs spreads, so does the availability of resources. This means you have seemingly limitless options when selecting which services work best for your family and which provider is the best fit for you! However, sometimes these options can be tough to navigate. Thankfully, friends and family will have some insight on what works best for their children. While this is an important aid, you will also need to educate yourself on the options to see if they truly match with what your child requires. A great place to start is understanding the differences in the types of therapies. Once you understand what each therapy assists with, you can prioritize the service that will aid your family the most. To get you started, here is a list and description of some of the main therapies.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA):

ABA therapy is based on the science of learning and behavior and has been used to assist children with developmental needs since the 1960s. Behavior analysts help us understand how behavior works, how behavior is affected by the environment, and how learning takes place. Over the past 60 years, numerous studies have been conducted to demonstrate its effectiveness in a variety of areas.

ABA can assist in a variety of key areas that are important to many families. Through changes in the environment and the use of positive reinforcement, ABA can decrease behaviors that are harmful or affect learning as well increase language/communication, attending, social, and functional life skills (such as dressing or toileting). Sessions are typically 2-6 hours in length and involve teaching skills in the natural environment and in a structured table setting. Each individual is assessed to determine what goals, learning methods, and behavior management strategies work best for them.

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Occupational (OT):

OT can assist people across the life span and Licensed Occupational Therapists can work with a variety of populations. For children with exceptional needs, OT’s typically focus on teaching play, self-care, and fine motor skills. Some OTs are specifically trained to assist those with feeding and swallowing challenges. OTs assess what skill areas a child needs to work on, then assist the child in participating in specific activities that will build those skills.  Some OTs use Sensory Integration treatment to address those with sensory processing difficulties. However, sensory integration still requires additional research to demonstrate they overall effects. Session lengths are typically a half-hour to 1 hour.

OT chart.PNG

Physical (PT)

PT is also used to treat a variety of populations and ages.  For children, PTs typically focus on improving gross and fine motor skillsbalance and coordination, as well as strength and endurance. Therapists prescribe specific exercises and provide hands-on care to build these areas. This work allows children to be healthier and participate in everyday activities. PTs are specialized in understanding the physiology of motor skill and muscle tone deficits. This therapy can assist with pain associated with some disorders and genetic syndromes.  Sessions are typically a half-hour to one hour long.

PT chart.PNG


Speech Therapy addresses challenges with language and communication. Speech therapists can assist with strengthening the muscles in the mouth, jaw and neck, making clearer speech sounds, understanding body language, modulating tone of voice, and responding to questions. Therapists may also teach Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC), which includes sign language, Picture exchange communication system (PECS), speech output devices, and speech applications on an iPad. Some Speech therapists are also trained to work on feeding and swallowing difficulties. Speech therapists use language intervention activities, oral-muscle strengthening exercises and articulation therapy to increase communication. Sessions are typically a half-hour to one hour long.

Speech chart.PNG

Other popular therapies: Art, music, and animal therapies are additional therapies you may want to consider. If your child seems to have a natural inclination towards one of these areas, this motivation may allow them to make gains in other areas, such as communication or even fine motor skills. Even if you have not noticed a natural inclination towards animals, art or music, you may discover a new method of teaching your child through one of these therapies. Many therapists offer group classes that can offer a cost-friendly way for you to see if these therapies are a good fit for your child.

 Making a decision:

By understanding the target areas of the therapeutic services, you may already have a clearer idea of what would benefit your family most. Often, caregivers will balance a mixture of 3 or 4 therapies. Your doctor can guide you further on which areas your child requires the most attention. As you begin contacting therapists, you will discover available spots will direct you in how much of each therapy your child can receive. The assessment will provide a recommendation for the frequency and length of services, but you may not be able to schedule those recommended hours right away. Continue to check with your provider to see if spots have opened so your child can maximize the therapy most beneficial to them.

Now that you have a better understanding of the services available to your child, you can begin helping your child grow! If you have any questions about a resource available to you, please contact

Are you having difficulty deciding between providers or therapeutic companies? Our next blog topic can assist you! We will describe some key indicators of a quality provider. Coming soon!