Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral Therapies may be effective in treating children with special needs, particularly those with conditions such as ADHD, Autism, and Cerebral Palsy. According to HealthyChildren.org, there are many different types of behavioral therapy, but they all share a common goal of "changing the child's physical and social environments to help the child improve his behavior." The techniques used will be customized to the child's needs, based on which behaviors need correcting and which condition the child suffers from. It relies on the belief that all behaviors can be changed and/or learned.

Behavioral Therapy also may involve using cognitive techniques to help a child solve problems and manage the symptoms of their condition, especially when it comes to interacting with people in an academic setting.

What Are Some Behavioral Therapy Techniques?

Positive Reinforcement:

This technique involves rewarding the child after the desired behavior is achieved. The reward is typically something that is specific to what the child enjoys -- something that the child will be delighted to receive, which will compel him to exhibit the desired behavior. 

Time-Out:

Putting a child in time out for incorrect behavior involves removing him from whatever his desired activity is, so that he learns that if he doesn’t act accordingly, he can’t engage in said activity.

Response Cost:

When a child does not engage in proper behavior, response cost involves taking away privileges or something the child desires. For example, taking away electronics time.

Token-Economy:

This involves a combination of rewarding the child and enforcing consequences. The child is given a reward for good behavior, but has something taken away for negative behavior.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) -- This technique focuses on improving behaviors like social skills, communications, reading, adaptive learning skills, and fine motor skills. ABA can be applied in a variety of settings, including in the home, school, and clinics. When used as therapy for children with autism, it can help them learn how to minimize negative behaviors and maintain positive behaviors.

Sensory Integration Therapy involves exposing a child to increasingly higher levels of stimuli to help the child improve sensitivities to that stimuli.

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy:

With this technique, the therapist will teach parents how to reward or give consequences for specific behaviors, that way the treatment is reinforced and can be continued at home. 

Behavioral Therapy for Autism:

According to Psychology Today, Behavioral Therapy is the most proven approach to treatment for children with autism because of its effectiveness with teaching a child how to manage social skills. In addition to Applied Behavior Analysis and Cognitive Behavior Therapy, another common type of behavioral therapy for autism includes:

Verbal Behavior Therapy:

With this technique, a therapist will teach a non-verbal child how to effectively communicate with purpose. It aims to teach the child that communication will result in positive results. It involves repetition and modeling in order to teach the child the desired skill.

There is also a technique called Developmental and Individual Differences Relationship (DIR) therapy – also called Floortime, which builds upon skills the child already possesses. This essentially lets the child guide the therapist to be able to further the child's skills to motivate them and use them as teaching moments. 

Behavioral Therapy for ADHD:

When it comes to kids with ADHD, Behavioral Therapy may be very effective in managing the child’s self-control, behavior, and also their self-esteem. The skills the child learns with these therapies can help them improve their relationships both at home and in an academic setting so that they are set up for more success. According to the CDC, therapists who train parents are the best option:

 "Only therapy that focuses on training parents is recommended for young children with ADHD because young children are not mature enough to change their own behavior without their parents' help."

Some therapists work individually with one family, and others may apply techniques in a group setting. Some of the therapies used include talk therapy, play therapy, and learning and practicing behavior therapy.

Behavioral Therapy for Cerebral Palsy:

According to CelebralPalsy.org, Behavioral Therapy can be beneficial to children with Cerebral Palsy because it can teach the child how to effectively communicate and express their needs, which will help them interact with their environment and have more control over their emotions. Emotions may be quite strong due to the fact that they are unable to express what they want and need, which frustrates the child and has an effect on their self-esteem. Behavioral Therapy can help empower the child and make them feel better about themselves. 

In addition to teaching effective communication skills to the child, the therapist can also work with parents to instruct them on how to reinforce behaviors at home to help increase the child’s progress. 

How Do I Find a Behavioral Therapist?


Talk to your pediatrician about recommendations, as he/she can likely refer you to someone. As far as looking online, GoodTherapy.org offers a searchable database where you can seek out a specific type of counselor or therapist. Psychology Today also has listings of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists across the United States, or you can search the database on the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies website.