5 alternatives to ABA therapy

This blog post will consist of “5 alternatives to ABA therapy”, and cover topics such as alternative therapies to ABA, their pros and cons, and what research says about these therapies.

What are some alternatives to ABA therapy?

Below are some alternatives to ABA therapy:

  • Medicine
  • Speech, Occupational and Sensory therapy(behavioral and communication alternatives)
  • Supplements and Natural Remedies
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatments
  • Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) 

ABA therapy is very traumatizing for people with autism spectrum disorders as proven by research, as the child goes through 40 hours of intensive therapy, and is forced to behave in a normal way according to society. There are a variety of alternatives to aba therapy that are better for children.

Types of alternative treatments – 


There are no drugs that can cure autism spectrum disorder, but some can help autistic people function a bit better. Risperidone and aripiprazole can relieve behavioral and anxiety issues. 

Other medicines can help with self-injury or seizures, managing high energy, and difficulty in focusing.

Melatonin, which is a hormone produced by our pineal gland, can help treat insomnia, while RDA/RDi, a multivitamin or general vitamin supplement helps ensure that picky eaters get proper nutrition. 

Some other known vitamins are fish oil supplements for reducing hyperactivity, vitamin B12 for helping with behavioral issues, and probiotics are advised for gastrointestinal issues.

Behavioral and communication alternatives:

  • Social skills training
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech Therapy
  • Assistive Technology

Social skills training – 

This teaches the children the social skills needed to communicate with others, such as problem-solving and communication skills.

Occupational therapy

It helps them live as independent people, as it teaches them basic motor skills (bathing, brushing their teeth, closing lids, and eating)

Speech Therapy – 

They work on their communication skills. It includes using gestures and images to learn verbal communication skills.

Assistive Technology – 

It includes using technology to help people with autism spectrum disorder communicate and interact with others. Communication boards and electronic tablets are most commonly used. 

The tablets can be used to generate speech and help with communication such as The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS). The person uses pictures of symbols to ask questions and communicate with others.

Supplements and Natural Remedies:

Since many autistic kids are extremely picky eaters, they lack a lot of nutrients, and some studies have shown that the vitamins they take to compensate for this lack of nutrients such as CBD and edible oil, may help with symptoms of anxiety and aggression. 

Developmental, Arts, and Animal Assisted Therapies 

These are known as non-behavioral therapies and can be considered complementary treatments as they are not covered by insurance companies. 

They pose no risk to the children and have emotional and behavioral benefits. Some examples of these include –

Emotional support animals or animal-assisted therapy

Play therapy

Art therapy

Recreational activities

Complementary and Alternative Treatment (CAM)

They are defined as such because they are the opposite of typical or mainstream treatments. They help reduce symptoms but none of this can cure autism.

Popular low-risk CAM treatments –

These can be a bit pricey, but since they pose low risks they are quite popular, and some parents can learn and provide these therapies on their own.

  • Eastern and Holistic Therapies
  • Special Diets
  • Sensory Therapy

Eastern and Holistic Therapies – 

These are recommended for issues with anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness. Though they are readily available in a lot of communities, they aren’t covered by insurance.

They have no effect on the core symptoms of autism, such as sensory and emotional regulation and communication, but they can reduce anxiety and help with self-calming.

Some popular options include:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Craniosacral manipulation
  • Acupuncture/acupressure
  • Reiki

Special Diets – 

There have been many cases where those with autism have experienced a behavior change, and have helped a lot with their gastrointestinal issues.

According to the Interactive Autism Network (IAN), the diets include:

  • Casein-free diet – it’s a protein found in milk, and this diet removes all milk products and milk.
  • Gluten-free diet 
  • Feingold diet – eliminating all additives and chemicals
  • Specific carbohydrate diet-specific carbohydrates are removed, such as grains, lactose, and sucrose
  • Yeast-free diet – no yeast and sugar

Sensory Therapy – 

The criteria for autism spectrum disorder changed in 2013, as sensory challenges – over and under response to lights, sounds, touch, etc were added. 

This increased interest in sensory integration therapy and saw an outgrowth of occupational therapy. These include the use of weighted vests, sensory diets (brushing and joint compression), and sessions with a sensory therapist.

High-Risk CAM Treatments – 

Since some CAM treatments involve the use of risky chemicals and/or procedures, they can be potentially harmful, and a lot of them are based on outdated theories.

Many treatments still follow the theory that autism is caused by toxins or vaccines, so they are intended to remove the toxins from the child’s body. 

Some of these include :


It involves using a lead-based supplement to remove all heavy metals from the body to undo the harm believed to be because of the toxins and vaccines. 

A study conducted by some researchers in Australia talks about the risks this poses for children.

Hyperbaric oxygen treatment

Research suggests that since it involves keeping the child in a pressurized chamber, filled with pure oxygen to reduce supposed inflammation. It has helped a lot of children, but it has its limitations and the FDA has warned people because there are a lot of false claims about HBOT.

Antifungal agents

They help reduce presumed Candida(yeast-like fungus) overgrowth

Miracle/Master Mineral Solution

It is a bleach-based treatment used for detoxifying the body


These are used to reduce the presumed underlying illness.

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

RDI is a rather new therapy for autism spectrum disorder. Those who developed this therapy think that the training is the most effective when it’s started at a young age, but can also be used for adults. It aims to teach kids how to think flexibly and engage in social relationships.

Generally, the training starts by helping the children engage in relationships with their parents and other family members. It’s quite similar to other therapies used for autism spectrum disorder as its main focus is on the disorder’s core symptoms such as social skills and interaction.

Parents are guided on how to use all opportunities to help the child learn, as it gives them more chances to engage and work on their social skills. Thus, the parent’s involvement is one of the most important aspects of this therapy.

It’s comparatively new, so there is not a lot of research or clinical evidence to prove its effectiveness, but its developers have conducted a few studies and they show that there has been a notable improvement in the children treated with this therapy.

The only con of this therapy is that it is very time and energy-consuming for the parents, as they are required to allocate time to workshops and watching videos to learn how to give their child the best intervention program. 

It also requires constant video calling from their licensed RDI consultant and their child, to keep up to date with the new techniques and learn how to get the best out of their treatment.


This blog post contained “5 alternatives to ABA therapy”. We learned why we need those therapies and went into detail about how the therapies work and what symptoms they may help with. It also consisted of a few studies done on alternative therapies.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): 5 alternatives to ABA therapy

What is an alternative to ABA?

There are a variety of alternatives to ABA, which have been discussed in detail in this blog post, such as RDI, sensory therapy, medication, etc.

Is ABA the only treatment for autism?

No, this is a myth. There are many treatments for autism, depending on the children, different therapies work for different children, and on top of that, a lot of new therapies are being developed even today. 

What are the cons of ABA therapy?

  • It’s time-consuming and expensive – the recommended time for ABA is 40 hours a week, which is not fully covered by insurance. This can be very tiring and costs a lot of money.
  • Finding a good therapist is hard – Since there is no licensing course available for ABA, anyone can claim to be an ABA therapist.
  • The results are robotic, and children aren’t taught to be independent 

When should my child stop ABA therapy?

ABA is a very individualized therapy, and the results differ for everyone, so there are no clear indicators for when you can stop ABA. Some factors can be taken into consideration if you are thinking about discontinuing ABA.

If there hasn’t been any progress for some time, and you feel that you are not moving towards the original goal of the therapy, it may be time to discuss it with the aba provider and talk about an updated treatment plan or discontinuing it.

Talk to your family members and those in close contact with your child, to assess the progress of your child. This is referred to as socially significant progress. 

Some examples include progress with the kid’s morning routine, or maybe the kid had problems earlier with communication and now it has improved, that is a clear indicator that your child may not need aba therapy anymore as the goal has been achieved.

One of the major reasons can be financial problems and the therapy is more emotionally draining than it is helpful. If either of these things happens, it’s a good indicator that you should discontinue the therapy as it’s getting harder to continue it.

Does DBT help autism?

According to some studies, since there is a lack of resources available to test whether or not DBT can help with autism, there is no concrete proof of this. It has been hypothesized that DBT may help with suicidal tendencies in autistic people as it has been found to help with suicidal behavior and loss of control over one’s behavior in other disorders. 

This is just a hypothesis, and the results will be researched once proper resources have been attained.

Why is yoga good for autism?

Yoga has been shown to help with the anxiety and stress children with autism experience due to their symptoms and therapies. Its benefits include:

  • De-stressing and calming the child down
  • Parents get to relax and take a break, helping them improve their mental health
  • The exercises can be used as de-escalation exercises at home
  • Combined family exercises are a great bonding experience
  • Improves their motor skills

Can osteopathy treat autism?

According to sources, osteopathy has helped a lot of children with autism spectrum disorders. The benefits range from small reductions in hyperactive behavior to major improvements in communication, though a scientific study hasn’t been conducted on this topic yet.


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Huntjens, A. Sizoo, B. et al (2020). The effect of dialectical behavior therapy in autism spectrum patients with suicidality and/ or self-destructive behavior (DIASS): study protocol for a multicentre randomized controlled trial. BMC Psychiatry. 20.

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