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Alternatives to ABA Therapy for Children with Autism

Alternatives to ABA Therapy for Children with Autism

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is an observational therapy largely based on a positive reinforcement system. ABA was introduced in the 1970s and has become the standard for children with autism, particularly in the United States. The therapy rose in popularity once parents saw results rapidly appear in children who were enrolled in programs involved with ABA.


ABA therapy focuses on understanding the behavioral patterns of your child, especially children with autism, to implement and reinforce healthier behaviors. When autistic children become overstimulated or overwhelmed, they may engage in behaviors that can potentially cause harm to themselves or others. For example, screaming or yelling when frustrated is common in children with autism, as well as hitting, banging, or running away from a situation. Although these behaviors would likely be grounds for punishment in children who aren’t on the autism spectrum, children who do have autism are behaving this way as a physical response to their surroundings.


Parents of children who have autism have participated in programs that use ABA therapy to make those behaviors listed above less common in their child’s everyday lives. Most times parents aim to eliminate those behaviors. This concept of attempting to get rid of those behaviors in autistic children has actually been the reason ABA has had some pushback. 


Criticisms of ABA therapy

Throughout the years, ABA therapy has been opposed by a lot of parents of autistic children. Some parents have spoken out against ABA therapy, claiming that they’ve witnessed ABA take away their child’s individuality and instead forced them to conform to a socially constructed concept of normality. Those who have advocated for making harmless autistic behaviors and characteristics normalized have viewed ABA as an attempt to “cure autism”.


Due to these controversies and concerns, parents have been determined to find alternative treatments for children with autism.


Children with autism playing in a classroom


Alternative therapies for children with autism

You might find that most professionals won’t deviate from the standard treatment recommendations (ABA, prescribed medications, and related therapies such as speech and occupational). However, there are low-risk alternatives for children with autism that can have a benefit on your child. You may want to consider these if you’re looking for alternatives to ABA therapy.


Floortime therapy

Floortime therapy focuses on helping your child establish emotional and social connections through structured interactions. This therapy is contained in timed sessions and can take place anywhere where your child is comfortable enough to engage in play. This is a way to ensure that your child is leading playtime with their own interests, while also being encouraged to interact with others, hone their attention skills, and improve their social skills. 


An example of floortime therapy is using textured square cut-outs to make a path on the floor. You can then encourage your child to follow the desired path, while also exposing them to different colors or textures they may not be used to. Floortime therapy can easily be conducted by parents, which makes it an attractive option. 


Early Start Denver Model therapy

Similar to floortime therapy, the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is focused on structured play in order to facilitate social interaction and personal skills. This specific therapy is typically implemented for children between 12-48 months. Because this is used early on in a child’s development, a lot of the skills you’re teaching your child are being learned alongside other developmental achievements (developing fine motor and cognitive skills).


This is another attractive option due to the lead the child can take during play, making each session feel comfortable and enjoyable to them. A benefit to ESDM is the option of a high level of parental involvement and an improvement in social and communication skills very early on. 


Relationship development intervention

Relationship development intervention (RDI) focuses on social and emotional skills in children with autism. That means that this particular alternative treatment can help your child form emotional bonds and create a shared experience with other people. Through this treatment, your child can begin to understand the differences between objective and subjective experiences. Children who participate in RDI often have a better understanding of different perspectives and develop more self-awareness.


Some have found that their children have an improved understanding surrounding interaction with others and a better ability to navigate relationships after applying RDI strategies.

 Mother with baby playing together


More alternative therapies for autism

There are a lot of other alternative therapies other than what was just listed above. If you’re still wanting to learn about other alternatives or if you’re searching for more information, you can review the list of other options below.


Holistic therapies

These can include practices such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness techniques. 


Modified diets, supplements, and homeopathic medicine

Other than using prescribed and naturally-derived medications, some parents have found success switching their child to a gluten-free diet.


Sensory integration therapy

This therapy gradually introduces any stimulation that’s too challenging for your child. This makes it easier for your child to process these stimuli, as well as makes them more comfortable with them overall. 


Recreational therapy 

Recreational therapy takes place in settings where your child is most comfortable and invites them to engage in activities that they have a significant interest in. Much like the play therapies described above (ESDM and floortime), this entails softly guided interactions.


Arts therapy

Art therapy can be beneficial for autistic children because they can have a difficult time processing colors, textures, and other stimulations. This can improve their ability to understand non-literal language and non-verbal cues.


Animal-assisted therapies

Animals can be specifically trained to cater to the needs of children on the autism spectrum. Although this isn’t traditionally used as a child’s primary therapy, animal therapy can help with their attention, focus, and social skills.


Social skills therapy

Many autistic children struggle with socialization. Social skills therapists implement techniques into their sessions with children on the spectrum to make socialization much more comfortable and desirable for them.


Finding the right combination with ECCM

Expert Community Care Management will help you and your child find the best therapy option suitable to your needs. Our Autism Supports Coordination service will help you to identify your individual support plan and work with you to achieve your desired outcome. We work with individuals of any age on the autism spectrum. Our goal at ECCM is to assist in the betterment of the lives of you and your loved ones. 


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