Alternatives to ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis)

I am often asked if not ABA then what? It’s important to note that there is no therapy for being Autistic and there is no need for therapy for being Autistic. Acceptance is the key and that means accepting that a child is Autistic. Accept that they will develop Autistically, play Autistically, communicate Autistically, think Autistically and learn Autistically. They need support to become an Autistic with a positive sense of self because of the huge stigma around our way of existing. In short there are no alternatives to ABA because there is no need for an alternative.

Before you do anything:

1. Love and accept your child. Know your child is fully whole, human and has a wonderful life ahead.
2. Listen to Autistic people. 
3. Understand the purpose of ABA is to train autistic children to pretend they are non-autistic so when you ask for alternatives be clear what you’re looking for.
4. Remember Autistics are different in our development. Don’t panic if we don’t know how to do something at 4 that non-autistic do. Chances are that non-autistic kids don’t know how to do things that we can. We develop differently so measuring us off non-autistic milestones is nonsensical. ABA has no appreciation for Autistic thinking and learning.

So now you want a way to help your child, but with what?

Sensory: Occupational Therapist or find things to distract. Distraction from offensive sensory input can stop sensory overload. OR help The Autistic Community with its campaigns to change our environment, then we can minimise the negative effects of sensory overload.

Behaviours: listen to Autistic people who can explain all of this to you. We have an Understanding Behaviour course available on demand which will explain all of this to you in great detail.

Behaviour is communication, stimming is part of our language and part of our learning process. 

‘Challenging behaviours’ should not be happening, if they are then something is radically wrong in your child’s life. It’s either sensory or emotional. This can be caused be someone misinterpreting them continually because they are not listening to autistic people or by the sensory environment. Understanding your child and studying their language will teach you what you need to change. Meltdowns have nothing to do with being Autistic. Every human being melts down under severe stress. If meltdowns are happening then it’s up to you to find the stressors and remove them permanently. 

Speech: speech therapy can help or you can begin to learn about AUTISTIC LANGUAGE and culture so that you can learn your child’s language instead of putting them through years of therapy. Autistics communicate all the time, others just don’t interpret our language. Stimming is part of our language, as is posture, gesture, movements and sounds (same as every other human). If your child is not communicating verbally then there are lots of AAC devices on the market. AAC users recommend you start teaching them early on, everyone has the right to communicate. 


Play : Autistics play in Autistic ways, that’s why Autistics become experts, inventors and are natural problem solvers and environmental communicators. There is no need to teach your child to play. 


Engaging: make it interesting or join in with what we’re doing. 
It’s important to remember that Communication for some of us is not a transfer of information or words. It is sharing a space and time with another. We ARE engaging just by being. This should be respected. Words are our second language so it’s important you remember that. 

Learning skills: we learn things best when the motivation comes from within, when there is an actual need for us to learn to do something. Also we may do things differently but they’ll serve the same purpose and that’s ok. We learn best by experiencing, thinking, touching, figuring out and stimming is actually part of our learning process. We stim to store the learning, we stim while we’re processing or figuring out. We stim to recall our learnings. Stimming is not just for self regulation. 
Learning, like everything we do is an emotional process for us. This is why we have ‘special interests’ or passions. We need a rich and full understanding and we need to know the REASON why we have to learn certain things. If it’s not logical then good luck trying to make us learn it. 

Social skills: Autistics have ‘social skills’ . We have our own language and culture so we don’t need to become someone else. We do need some help with non-autistic language and culture so we can learn about that the same way we’d learn about any other language and culture. Through role play, games and figuring stuff out. It’s important that our Autisticity is respected at all times as a valid culture and language and that you realize that ‘processing delays’ are often just me translating your language into mine and then back into yours so you can understand. ABA forces non-autistic social behaviours on Autistic people. It is conversion therapy which is why we do not need any alternatives to ABA.


Building confidence & Self belief: look for activities that your child enjoys and will thrive at. Drama, music, art, dance, lego, horse riding ….the list is endless. Autistic kids can do activities too, everything doesn’t have to be a therapy!


Peers: find other Autistic people , we tend to get on with each other. Also some of us can enjoy the company of older or younger kids. I’m 42. My friends range from 22 to 65 …. why do 8 year old kids have to only be friends with other 8 year olds? 

Acceptance is the key. We do not need alternatives to ABA. We need to be given the opportunity to blossom and develop along our own Autistic path.

15 Responses

  1. What support do you recommend for someone with a 16 year old that is unable to communicate what is bothering them, and is repeatedly engaging in behavior that is dangerous and/or harmful to themself or others?

  2. Since my son was diagnosed in Feb 2021, this is the most helpful article that I have read, thank you.

    1. Thank you Debbie. I’m so glad you found this helpful. We have 80 articles so I’m sure you’ll find more information here also

  3. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. THIS is the information I needed to read and have been looking for to help understand how best to support my son. I have known from the start that ABA is not the way forward for us, but I needed to know how best to support him. Thank you so much for this.

  4. We are looking for a non-ABA occupational therapist for our 20-year-old diagnosed at age 18. We are in the NYC Metro area. Please let us know. Thanks!

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. It’s exactly what I needed to help understand my 4 yr old autistic son. I imagine I will revisit this often as a reminder.

  6. I’m self-diagnosed autistic, after studying the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, researching clinical studies on autistic girls and other AFAB people, as well as comparing my experiences with autistic creators in social media (as anecdotal evidence, also to not feel so isolated).

    The more I learn about autism, the more I understand why I’ve always done things the way I do and why I struggle with things that people my age seem to have no problems with. Also (only slightly joking here) how I went from being an old-soul child who preferred to spend time around grown-ups, to now being a very child-like adult and not having been able to, “put away [the] childish things,” that I enjoy and are meaningful to me.

    Do you have any recommendations or advice for seeking formal diagnosis as an adult, as well as any resources in the Central Texas area?

  7. My almost 3 year old has no verbal communication but has his ways to let us know what he wants either by grabbing it him self and bring it to you or taking your hand to take you to what he wants, we don’t have a diagnosis of autism yet but that is what looks like we’re taking everything day by day and not worrying too much because I see a happy toddler playing in his own way the only thing I want to ask anyone that is going to a similar situation is does speech therapy work ? What age did your autistic child stated speaking ? I would love to find him a place for him to play with other kids but no therapy involved but I don’t know where to start looking for such ,, thank you

    1. Some never do and that’s ok. Reliable communication will always be a priority over physical speech. A speech therapist specialising in AAC will have all the information you need to get started on what form of communication will work best for him, but just remember our developmental trajectory is naturally different to neurotypicals. We can learn to read at 2 and not be toilet trained at 12. As such, speech may very well develop on its own, the ability to minimise frustration by enabling reliable communication should be the goal if that becomes a concern.

      Good luck!

    2. I cannot speak for everyone, i can only comment on what i have observed as a support worker and what i have observed is it wont work for all non verbal people with autism but it does help most particularly if you start from an early age. I have seen some kids as young as 2 years old using makaton to communicate which is a simpler form to auslan.

  8. Fascinating; how I wish sometimes that this sort of advocacy had been around whilst I was at school; by fluke, I didn’t have an direct experiences of ABA, however I spent many years seeing psychologists and psychiatrists none of whom ever even considered I might be Autistic!!! Took till my mid 30’s for my GP to enquire if I’d ever been tested for Autism! Clearly I said no; she asked if I’d like to be? Why ever not!!! So a few months later I was tested and it was found unequivocally that I was/am Autistic!!! School and the like would likely have been far less traumatic had I and/or those around me known that I was actually Autistic and not “just a naughty boy” ; that my behaviours had reasons and I needed support not castigation!!! On the other hand I know at least one person who is Autistic as well as being something of an advocate, who was sent to ABA for many years as they were growing up; they reckon that they were “lucky” inasmuch as their ‘therapist’ was “a good one”. Even ‘reputable’ adult Social Care companies use interventions based upon ABA!!! It’s about time we all (Neurodivergent folk!) band together to promote alternatives to ABA!!!

  9. As a Special Educator, I found ABA uncomfortable in my early years training. I found this article presenting refreshing perspectives and practical insights thst are useful. I will put these into practic. Thank you.

  10. Firstly, please forgive me if I phrase or cause upset by asking advice.
    I work in a mainstream school. I specifically work on the social/ emotional/ behaviour sector. I am trying to learn as much as possible on understanding autism and how to enable children to fit in and thrive in this environment!! There’s mainly no alternative for our children and there are more and more attempting to survive through mainstream!!
    I’ve learnt a lot from these posts and questions… thank you!
    I’d like to ask this and all opinions greatly received!! I regularly get teachers putting forward autistic based children for social interventions. Fitting into mainstream expectations and society is an important way of school enabling them to thrive !! However the needs of the said child or understanding of their well being is obviously not!! So my dilemma and question is… Do we try to educate the child on these aspects so they can attempt to fit in with their peers or leave them be. Even though they have the under lying ( in some cases) desire to be accepted and fit in? We are slowly educating staff and children on understanding ND but it takes time and pressure is beyond measure on all teachers and staff.
    I have learnt so much just reading on here!! I see first hand how autistic children are drawn to each other, interact and play together. Regularly more than a NT would with a ND child! Do we need to understand that the social skills will never be conformed to or connected to or do we try to teach them the skills they may need more of going forward in life?? Reading many of the comments, I’m thinking the child will find their own way eventually and forcing societies expectations just causes more trauma and upset? But then life in mainstream schools can be brutal and to survive everyone needs tools in their tool kit!
    Thank you for reading and your potential answers!!

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