Five Different Therapies For Autism Spectrum: Pros and Cons

As there is no single cure for ASD, there are multiple approaches to supporting people on the spectrum.

While all therapies aim to enhance the lives of individuals with autism by addressing a range of challenges they may face, each approach comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied behavior analysis, or ABA therapy, is a systematic approach to understanding and modifying behavior.

Focused on data-driven techniques and individualized plans, ABA therapy is among the most widespread and effective approaches to treating autism.

You can find ABA therapy centers in Miami, New York, Colorado, Atlanta — all over the US, with bigger cities offering more options.


  • Evidence-based and backed up by research
  • Highly personalized and customizable
  • Structured in its nature
  • Can involve the parents


  • Can be seen as rigid and demanding
  • Requires serious time commitment
  • Can be costly
  • Limited accessibility in certain regions

There are quite a few positives that go in favor of taking an ABA therapy approach to addressing autism.

Its effectiveness is well-documented, which is one of the main reasons many professionals in the field of supporting people with ASD rely on it.

Furthermore, ABA therapy heavily relies on collecting data and continuous monitoring, which allows therapists to tailor the interventions to the specific needs and progress of each individual.

Its well-defined and organized nature, created by clear guidelines and consistent schedules, gives much-needed stability and predictability to individuals on the autism spectrum.

The structured approach of ABA therapy allows individuals who may experience anxiety to find comfort in knowing what to expect, fostering a sense of security and routine.

Finally, the active involvement of parents and caregivers in the ABA process ensures that learning is not limited to the sessions and extends into the individual’s daily life.

On the other hand, some view the structured nature of ABA therapy and its reliance on repetitive drills as rigid and overly controlling, potentially limiting individual autonomy and self-expression. 

Moreover, the significant time and financial commitments required for ABA therapy can be challenging for many families, making it less accessible for those who could benefit from it.

The limited availability of ABA therapy in certain regions further exacerbates this issue, highlighting the need for improved accessibility and affordability.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Cognitive behavior therapy, often abbreviated as CBT, is a widely recognized and systematic approach to addressing various mental health conditions.

Rooted in understanding the interplay between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, CBT offers evidence-based techniques and individualized strategies to promote positive change.


  • Extensively researched and supported by evidence
  • Highly personalized treatment
  • Trains thought patterns, not just behavior
  • Sessions are short and don’t require a substantial time commitment


  • Not suitable for everyone
  • Progress is entirely up to the individual with autism
  • Ineffective for individuals with learning difficulties
  • Relies on the ability to change

While there are similarities between ABA and CBT therapies in their systematic and evidence-based approaches, it’s crucial to note a key distinction – CBT attempts to modify undesired thought patterns rather than just alter behavior.

Of course, this means that not all people with ASD will respond to CBT in the same way they might to ABA therapy.

CBT’s success often hinges on the individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive restructuring and work on their thought processes, which can vary significantly among those with autism.

People who face severe mental health issues such as intense anxiety, deep depression, or significant challenges with emotional regulation may find that CBT’s cognitive restructuring demands can be overwhelming.

Moreover, individuals with learning difficulties may also struggle with the cognitive aspects of CBT, making it less effective for them.

However, for individuals facing less severe mental health challenges, CBT can provide a valuable and empowering set of tools for managing their thoughts and emotions effectively.

With just a few short weekly sessions, individuals who engage effectively with CBT can experience meaningful improvements in their mental well-being. 

In summary, CBT can be a viable approach to supporting people with ASD, but its effectiveness can vary widely depending on the individual’s willingness and capacity to actively participate in the therapy process.

Floortime – Play Therapy

Floortime, often referred to as play therapy, is an interactive and developmental approach used to support children with ASD.

Rooted in the belief that emotional and social development is essential, floortime focuses on fostering meaningful connections through play and interaction.


  • Approach that puts the child in charge
  • Emphasizes emotional connection
  • Can be done at home
  • Allows parents to act as therapists


  • May be insufficient as a standalone approach
  • Not a viable approach for adults with ASD
  • Rarely covered by insurance
  • Parents’ involvement is mandatory

Play therapy stands out for its unique approach that places a strong emphasis on following the child’s lead, acknowledging their individual interests, strengths, and communication styles, and tailoring therapy accordingly.

This child-centered philosophy distinguishes floortime from other therapies that primarily target behavior modification.

Furthermore, floortime’s focus on building emotional connections, fostering trust, and promoting social engagement sets it apart from heavily structured therapeutic methods.

Its adaptability for home use adds convenience and the potential for enhanced therapy effectiveness.

However, this flexibility may require a significant time commitment from parents, which can be challenging for families with busy schedules.

While play therapy may be effective for children, its applicability to adults with ASD may be limited.

Moreover, insurance rarely covers play therapy, which can create additional financial barriers for parents.

Ultimately, play therapy can be a valuable and effective therapeutic approach for children with ASD, though it may not always suffice as a standalone approach. 

In more challenging cases, floortime alone may not provide a comprehensive solution to effectively address all aspects of ASD, so it may have to be complemented with other approaches to make substantial progress.

Relationship Development Intervention

Relationship development intervention, or RDI for short, is an innovative approach that aims to enhance the quality of life for individuals with autism by enabling them to foster meaningful social connections.

It is a parent-led approach, most suitable for children with ASD.


  • Highly individualized and tailored to the child’s unique needs
  • Emphasizes genuine and reciprocal social connections
  • Encourages active problem-solving and flexible thinking
  • Aims to improve overall quality of life


  • Only viable for children
  • Requires ongoing commitment
  • May not yield immediate results
  • Limited accessibility

As most ASD therapies, RDI provides a highly individualized approach, tailored to the specific needs of autistic individuals.

However, unlike most other treatments, RDI places a strong emphasis on cultivating genuine and reciprocal social connections.

Rather than modifying behavior, the therapy seeks to nurture authentic relationships and interactions.

This approach can have a profound impact on improving the social and emotional well-being of individuals with ASD, fostering meaningful connections that extend beyond therapy sessions.

Moreover, RDI actively encourages the development of essential skills, such as the ability to navigate complex social situations and adapt to various social contexts.

Overall, RDI can equip individuals with autism with the necessary tools to lead more fulfilling lives and engage meaningfully in their communities.

However, as a therapeutic approach primarily designed for children, it may not be as effective for adults with autism. 

It requires a consistent and long-term commitment from both the child with ASD and their caregivers, so parents who want to try it need to be prepared for a high level of dedication.

Furthermore, the availability of certified RDI professionals may vary by region, creating additional challenges for parents.

Finally, RDI may not yield immediate results. Progress in developing meaningful social connections can take time, so patience and persistence are essential when pursuing RDI therapy.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Complementary and alternative treatments for autism encompass a diverse array of practices and therapies.

Often used alongside evidence-based methods, these approaches can provide a more comprehensive and holistic way of addressing specific challenges associated with ASD.


  • Interventions for all kinds of specific needs
  • Holistic care addresses physical, emotional, and sensory aspects
  • Can act as supplementary tools to enhance primary therapies
  • Alternative options for those seeking alternatives


  • Limited scientific validation
  • Some of them can be quite costly
  • May be insufficient as a standalone approach
  • Not easily accessible

When employed as supplementary tools, complementary therapies can offer a multifaceted approach to addressing the unique challenges associated with ASD.

They don’t only target behavioral aspects but also address physical, emotional, and sensory dimensions.

While valuable when used in conjunction with evidence-based methods, it’s important to recognize that these therapies often face limitations.

Many of them lack rigorous scientific validation, making it challenging to ascertain their true efficacy.

In other words, they can be beneficial as supplementary tools, but may not be sufficient as standalone approaches.

Additionally, some of these treatments can incur substantial costs, potentially creating financial hurdles for families.

To make things even more challenging, not all complementary therapies are easily accessible from everywhere.

Ultimately, complementary and alternative treatments can provide a flexible and diverse set of options for those who seek alternatives to conventional therapies.

However, since they are not backed as viable treatments for autism, it is best to incorporate them as a component of a comprehensive treatment plan.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately, in the world of ASD therapy, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The most effective approach depends on individual needs, preferences, and resources.

For this reason, it is crucial to consult specialized professionals who can tailor a comprehensive treatment plan to meet the unique needs of individuals on the spectrum.

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