Autism: Behavioural Training and Management

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Autism: Behavioural Training and Management

Topic Overview

Behavioural training teaches people of all ages who have autism how to communicate appropriately. This type of training can reduce behaviour problems and improve adaptation skills.

Both behavioural training and behavioural management use positive reinforcement to improve behaviour. They also use social skills training to improve communication. The specific program should be chosen according to the child's needs. High-functioning autistic children may be enrolled in mainstream classrooms and child care facilities—watching the behaviour of other normally developing children can provide examples for autistic children to follow. But other children are overstimulated in a regular classroom and work best in smaller, highly structured environments.

Consistent use of these behavioural interventions produces the best results. The child's functional abilities, behaviour, and daily environment should be thoroughly assessed before behavioural training and management begins.1 Parents, other family members, teachers, and caregivers of the autistic child should all be trained in these techniques.

Many treatment approaches have been developed, including:

  • Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). This treatment is based on the theory that behaviour rewarded is more likely to be repeated than behaviour ignored. It focuses on giving the child short simple tasks that are rewarded when successfully completed. Children usually work for 30 to 40 hours a week one-on-one with a trained professional. Some practitioners feel this method is too emotionally draining and demanding for a child with autism. Yet, years of practice has shown that ABA techniques result in new skills and improved behaviours in some children with autism.
  • TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children).This is a structured teaching approach based on the idea that the environment should be adapted to the child with autism, not the child to the environment. Teaching strategies are designed to improve communication, social, and coping skills. Like ABA, TEACCH also requires intensive one-on-one training.

If you are interested in ABA or TEACCH, be sure to check to see if it is covered by your provincial health plan or private health insurance plan. These treatments are not covered by all insurance plans.

For more information, parents can find a review of all the educational programs that work in the book Educating Children With Autism. Written by the U.S. National Research Council, the book is available through the National Academies Press at

Related Information



  1. Committee on Children with Disabilities, American Academy of Pediatrics (2001). Technical report: The pediatrician's role in the diagnosis and management of autistic spectrum disorder in children. Pediatrics, 107(5): 1–18.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Fred Volkmar, MD - Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Last Revised July 6, 2010

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