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Alternatives to ABA Therapy

Team Member
Abby Care
Discover effective alternatives to ABA therapy for kids with autism. Explore relationship-based, sensory-based, and holistic approaches in this guide.

Alternatives to ABA therapy do exist. In helping kids with autism, many turn to ABA Therapy. This therapy focuses on changing behavior through rewards and routines. While the therapy can be helpful, some worry that it might not always be the best choice and could cause stress since it may not consider all the needs of kids with autism. Some even question if it’s ethical. These concerns have led many to seek alternatives to ABA therapy.

To assist you, as a parent or caregiver, in finding other ways to help your child, Abby Care provides comprehensive information on ABA therapy alternatives. Together, we’ll explore relationship-based, communication-based, sensory-based, holistic, and educational approaches so you can find what works best for your child.

Alternatives to ABA Therapy

1. Relationship-Based Approaches

Floortime (DIR/Floortime)

Floortime is a therapy that’s particularly helpful for small kids. As the name suggests, the therapy often happens on the floor during playtime. It focuses on building connections and understanding your child’s unique way of thinking and feeling.

In Floortime, you play and interact with your child on their level, following their lead. This helps strengthen your bond and encourages your child to engage with the world around them. You might play games, such as creating a textured path on the floor for them to follow. Or, you could simply spend time together, all while focusing on communication and emotional connections.

Son-Rise Program

This program, created by the Autism Treatment Center of America, is a truly child-centered approach. With the Son-Rise Program, you get to move with your child rather than going against them. This means wholeheartedly embracing your child’s strengths and interests without pressuring them to achieve specific goals.

It encourages you to create a loving and accepting environment where your child feels safe to explore and learn. In this program, you become your child’s most important teacher and playmate. You learn to join your child in their world, sharing in their joys and challenges without judgment.

Through this unconditional love and acceptance, your child can develop social skills, communication, and confidence at their own pace.

2. Communication-Based Approaches

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) is a helpful way for children with autism to communicate when they can’t use words. It teaches them to exchange pictures for things they want or need.

In PECS, there are six steps to help your child learn. At first, you might help them give you a picture to ask for something. Then, as they get better, they’ll do it on their own. Research shows that PECS is a great way for kids with autism to learn how to communicate, even if they can’t talk.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

AAC is another effective way to help an autistic child, especially those who struggle with verbal speech. This speech therapy uses various methods and tools like gestures, sign language, communication boards, or electronic devices that generate speech to help with communication skills. For instance, someone might use a tablet with pre-programmed messages to communicate their thoughts and feelings.

3. Sensory-Based Approaches

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory Integration Therapy helps children with autism who have sensory processing issues. Sometimes, you might notice that your child with autism finds certain things, like loud noises or certain textures, really overwhelming. This therapy uses activities that expose children to different sensations in a structured way. 

For example, it might use activities like swinging or playing with textures to make these sensations less overwhelming for your child. This way, your child’s senses have a helpful guide to organize all the information around them.

Occupational Therapy

The focus of occupational therapy is on helping children with autism develop skills they need for everyday tasks. You might already know how important everyday tasks like getting dressed or eating can be a bit tricky for your child with autism.

Occupational therapy involves activities that improve fine motor skills, coordination, and sensory processing. This helps your child handle sensory information better so they can perform these tasks more easily. The goal of this therapy is to make daily life a bit smoother and more manageable for your child.

4. Holistic Approaches

Relationship Development Intervention (RDI)

This therapy is all about helping your child with autism build deeper connections and understandings with others. RDI focuses on nurturing meaningful relationships and helping your child develop important social and emotional skills.

The intervention encourages you, as a parent or caregiver, to become partners in your child’s journey. It guides you and your child through everyday interactions to promote genuine connections and build confidence in social situations. With each interaction, the therapy helps you lay a strong foundation for your child's social and emotional growth.

Social Thinking

This approach helps kids with autism learn social skills through planned activities. During planned sessions, children spend time together to build a friendly relationship that makes learning fun and interesting. Also, these structured sessions present some intellectual and emotional challenges along the way.

By spending time together and creating friendly relationships, Social Thinking makes learning about feelings and challenges interesting and fun.

5. Educational and Developmental Approaches

TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-handicapped Children)

TEACCH is a program that helps you understand how your child with autism learns best. It uses visual supports like pictures and schedules to help your child follow routines and learn new things.

With TEACCH, you can create a structured environment at home that makes it easier for your child to understand what to do next. This program focuses on teaching your child important skills in a way that suits their learning style, making learning more manageable and enjoyable for them.

SCERTS (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, Transactional Support)

SCERTS focuses on helping your child with autism improve how they communicate and handle their emotions. This program focuses on teaching your child social skills, like talking with others and understanding emotions. It also helps your child regulate their feelings and reactions in different situations.

With SCERTS, you can support your child in developing better social interactions, managing emotions, and feeling more confident in various social settings. This approach aims to enhance your child’s overall communication abilities and emotional well-being in a supportive and structured way.

A Comparison of the Alternatives

When thinking about other ways to help children with autism besides ABA therapy, it’s important to consider a few things about each alternative therapy, including:

  • Effectiveness: ABA therapy is effective for many, but the alternatives we've discussed work too, each in their own way. Consider your child's progress and response to each therapy.
  • Ethical Considerations: Different therapies have different ethical concerns, especially about the techniques and methods. Make sure the therapy matches your values and beliefs and respects your child’s feelings.
  • Suitability for Different Individuals and Circumstances: Different therapies may be more suitable for different kids and circumstances. Consider your child’s age, developmental level, and specific challenges when choosing a therapy. 
  • Accessibility and Cost: As a parent or caregiver, you can do some therapies, like Holistic Therapies, at home or in your community. Others need special places. You need to think about what’s practical and affordable for your family.

Considerations for Selecting an Alternative

When picking a therapy, think about what your child needs and prefers. Also, consider talking to experts like doctors and therapists. They can help you choose the best therapy for your child. Check what resources and help you have available, and think about what you want for your child’s future.


In summary, there are various alternatives to ABA therapy for autism spectrum disorder. Each of these addresses the specific needs and preferences of autistic children. 

Getting the right help for your child is important, so consider seeking guidance from experts. At Abby Care, we are committed to helping you, as a parent or caregiver, navigate and access various therapies to find what suits your child best. Reach out to us today, and together, we’ll explore and evaluate alternative therapies for your child with autism.


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