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Behavioral Health Treatments


Behavioral Health Treatment: An Overview

A Parent’s Guide to Autism Behavioral Health Treatments, at home and in a professional setting:  ATN/AIR-P Introduction to Behavioral Health Treatments | Autism Speaks

ABA Therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis)

The goal of ABA is to increase behaviors which are helpful and to decrease behaviors which are harmful or affect learning. Some ABA agencies provide in-home services, and other ABA agencies provide services at their agency and in the home of the family. An ABA therapist works with a child/youth regularly over a period of time to take steps towards achieving their goals.

ABA services typically begin with a functional behavior assessment (FBA). A FBA is an evaluation in which information is gathered about concerning behaviors, such as hitting or not staying in one’s seat at school. It is rooted in the theory that all behavior serves a function or purpose, all behavior is predictable and all behavior is changeable.

Steps to Obtain ABA Therapy:

  1. Caregivers should discuss ABA Therapy with a child’s pediatrician. If it is decided that ABA would be helpful, the pediatrician can write a prescription, if needed.
  2. Caregivers should contact the child’s health insurance company to see if it covers the cost of ABA therapy.
  3. Contact ABA agencies to request an evaluation. A list of all ABA agencies in MA, and information about them, is located here
  4. You will need the following information when calling to request an ABA evaluation.
    1. Original Evaluation that diagnoses your child with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
    2. A letter of Medical Necessity dated within the last six months.
    3. Copy of your child’s insurance card(s).
    4. Copy of your child’s latest Physical within the last year.
  5. If a family does not have all of these items, they must first obtain them before requesting ABA services.
  6. A copy of the latest annual physical and the letter of medical necessity can be obtained by contacting the pediatrician’s office; pediatricians will understand how to document medical necessity in a letter. If a family does not have a copy of the evaluation which led to an autism diagnosis, the caregiver can contact the agency where it was completed.
  7. If a child has not had a formal autism evaluation, such as an evaluation completed by a developmental behavioral pediatrician or a neuropsychological evaluation, the caregiver must first arrange for the evaluation.
  8. When all of the documentation is obtained, a family can then begin calling agencies.
  9. Many ABA Providers have waiting lists. Get placed on a few waiting lists and call back weekly until you have an intake with an agency.

A family can also choose to use a multi-step process to locate agencies near them and to check for openings and/or shorter waitlists:

  1. Check the following website:
  2. OR: Go to Massachusetts Behavioral Health Access (MABHA).
    1. Select “Youth and Family Services” then select “Find Provider Openings.” For “Select Service” choose “ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis), and complete the page with the family’s information. This will bring the caregiver to a table. Check each agency column for “Openings” and “Last Updated” for up-to-date information on which agencies might have openings in your area.

DIR®/Floortime® (Developmental, Individual-Differences, Relationship-Based Model)

DIR® is another approach to working with individuals with developmental or emotional challenges, including ASD. It focuses on how each person has their own way of understanding and interacting with the world around them. The goal of DIR® is to utilize Floortime® to build healthy foundations for social, emotional and intellectual capacities rather than focusing exclusively on skills and isolated behaviors. It highlights the power of relationships and emotional connections to fuel development. For more information about DIR®/Floortime® and to find providers in your area click here.

Psychotherapy and Play Therapy

Psychotherapy (sometimes called talk therapy) refers to a variety of treatments that aim to help a person identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Psychotherapy takes place with a licensed mental health professional either one-on-one or with other patients in a group setting. This may be appropriate for an individual diagnosed with ASD depending on their specific needs and developmental and speech abilities. Play therapy is a therapy/counseling modality that may be more appropriate for a child with ASD, as it utilizes play – which is children’s natural means of expression – to help them express and work through their feelings and psychosocial challenges.

Social Group / Social Skills Group

Social skills group can help strengthen the social interaction and communication skills of children, teens, and young adults with ASD, emotional regulation challenges, or related communication disorders. They are typically provided by community-based organizations.