How many hours of therapy do autistic children need?
There isn’t a definitive answer to the question of how many hours of therapy or support autistic children need.
This is because the number of therapy hours that work well for one child might not work so well for another.
Also, therapies and supports are all different and recommend different numbers of hours, as well as different ways of spending those hours. For example, some therapies might recommend a lot of one-to-one sessions with therapists. Others might recommend less contact between therapists and children but more interactions between families and children at home.
What makes therapy effective: face-to-face contact plus practice
Early, intensive and family-based therapies and supports are most likely to help children with autism. These intensive therapies and supports typically involve a certain amount of face-to-face contact with therapists or teachers. But this contact is only part of a therapy’s ‘intensity’.
Intensity also involves time spent practising and using new skills in different situations and with different people – for example, at home, early childhood education, preschool, school and so on.
Parent-led therapies like More Than Words® or the Early Start Denver Model and therapies like speech pathology and occupational therapy typically involve parents working with their children at home. These therapies and supports can be very helpful, even though they have lower contact hours than others.
It’s also possible to build therapies and supports into activities that children and families do every day. Having baths, eating family meals, getting dressed, going to the shops and playing can all be good opportunities to teach children new skills and help children practise what they’ve learned with their therapists.
There are many types of therapies and supports for autistic children, ranging from behavioural and developmental therapies and supports to medical and alternative therapies. Behavioural and developmental therapies tend to involve face-to-face hours. Medical and other therapies usually don’t require any time other than what’s needed to take the medication.
Questions to ask about the time involved in therapies and supports
These questions can help you understand how much time you’ll need to commit to a therapy:
- How many hours of face-to-face therapy or contact are recommended?
- How many hours do you and your child need to practise outside the face-to-face therapy sessions?
You could also ask about:
- where you need to practise – at home, school, child care?
- who needs to be involved – parents, carers, teachers and so on?
- when or how often – do you need to make special time? How can the therapy or support become part of daily life?
- how – what do you need to practise? How can you involve siblings and other family members?
- what support you’ll be given to practise therapies at home – training and so on?