Autism and Alternative Treatments

July 13, 2024

Discover innovative approaches to autism treatment beyond the box! Explore evidence-based therapies, alternative options, and controversial treatments.

Autism Treatment Options

When it comes to addressing the needs of individuals with autism, there are various treatment options available. These options can be categorized into evidence-based therapies and non-scientific treatments.

Evidence-Based Therapies

Evidence-based therapies are approaches that have been extensively researched and proven to be effective in treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These therapies are rooted in scientific evidence and are considered the standard of care for individuals with autism.

One widely recognized evidence-based therapy is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA focuses on teaching positive behaviors, reducing negative behaviors, and improving a wide range of skills. It is tailored to the individual's specific needs and can be implemented in different settings, such as home, school, or clinical environments. Other evidence-based therapies include occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy, which aim to enhance communication, social skills, and daily living activities.

Non-Scientific Treatments

While evidence-based therapies form the core of autism treatment, it is important to exercise caution when considering non-scientific treatments. Non-scientific treatments refer to approaches that lack scientific evidence or have been proven to be ineffective or potentially harmful for individuals with autism.

Some examples of non-scientific treatments include chelation therapy, lupron therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), gluten-free casein-free (GFCF) diet, secretin injections, and many others [2]. These treatments have not been scientifically validated and can be misleading or even dangerous for individuals with autism.

It is important to rely on evidence-based approaches to ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals with autism. While alternative or complementary therapies may be appealing, they should always be used in conjunction with evidence-based interventions to maximize their effectiveness and safety. To learn more about complementary therapies that have shown promise in conjunction with evidence-based approaches, visit our article on autism and complementary therapies.

By focusing on evidence-based therapies and avoiding non-scientific treatments, individuals with autism can receive the most effective and safe interventions available. It is essential to consult with healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, therapists, and autism specialists, to determine the most appropriate treatment plan tailored to the unique needs of each individual. For more information on other treatment options, such as medication approaches, dietary interventions, and controversial treatments, explore the corresponding sections in this article.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies play a crucial role in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). These therapies focus on addressing behavioral challenges, promoting skill development, and improving overall quality of life for individuals with ASD. Three commonly utilized behavioral therapies for autism treatment are Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Occupational Therapy (OT), and Speech Therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a widely recognized and evidence-based therapy for individuals with autism. ABA aims to reinforce positive behaviors and reduce negative ones, helping individuals develop essential skills and redirect harmful behaviors like self-injury. ABA is highly individualized and tailored to the specific needs of each person.

ABA therapy employs various techniques and strategies to promote social development, daily life skills, and the generalization of learned skills across different settings. It focuses on breaking down complex skills into smaller, achievable steps, using positive reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors. ABA interventions can be delivered in different formats, such as discrete trial training, naturalistic teaching, and pivotal response training, depending on the individual's requirements.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy (OT) is another essential component of autism treatment. OT addresses sensory integration and motor deficits commonly associated with ASD. The main goals of occupational therapy are to enhance the individual's quality of life, improve daily life skills, and promote independence in various activities.

In OT sessions, therapists work with individuals to improve fine motor movements, sensory integration, and adaptive skills required for self-care, school, and play. Occupational therapists employ a range of interventions, such as sensory integration therapy, visual supports, and structured routines, to help individuals develop the skills needed to participate fully in their daily activities.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy plays a vital role in supporting individuals with ASD in improving their communication skills. Communication challenges are common among individuals on the autism spectrum, and speech therapy aims to address these difficulties by enhancing expressive and receptive language abilities.

Speech therapists work with individuals with ASD to develop effective communication strategies tailored to their specific needs. For nonverbal individuals, alternative communication methods such as gestures, sign language, or picture communication programs may be utilized to facilitate effective communication [3]. Speech therapy also focuses on improving articulation, vocabulary development, social communication, and pragmatic language skills.

By incorporating Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Occupational Therapy (OT), and Speech Therapy into comprehensive treatment plans, individuals with autism can benefit from targeted interventions that address behavioral challenges, promote skill development, and enhance their overall quality of life. It's important to consult with professionals to determine the most appropriate therapies for each individual's unique needs. For more information on alternative autism treatments, please refer to our article on autism and complementary therapies.

Medication Approaches

While behavioral therapies and alternative treatments play a significant role in autism treatment, medication approaches can also be considered to manage certain symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It's important to note that medication should always be prescribed and monitored by a qualified healthcare professional.

FDA-Approved Drugs

There are specific FDA-approved drugs that have been recognized for their effectiveness in treating certain symptoms of ASD. Risperidone (Risperdal) and Aripiprazole (Abilify) are two such medications that have been approved for children with autism.

  • Risperidone can help with irritability and aggression in children between 5 and 16 years old [1].
  • Aripiprazole can be prescribed for children between 6 and 17 years old and may also be beneficial in managing irritability and aggression.

It's important to note that these medications should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, who will carefully evaluate the potential benefits and risks for each individual.

Related Symptom Medications

In addition to FDA-approved drugs, there are other medications that can be used to address related symptoms commonly experienced by individuals with autism. These medications can help manage symptoms such as depression, seizures, insomnia, and trouble focusing. It's worth noting that medication is typically most effective when used in combination with behavioral therapies [1].

Here are some examples of medications that may be prescribed to address specific symptoms associated with autism:

  • Antipsychotic medications: Risperidone (Risperdal), Aripiprazole (Abilify), and Zyprexa are commonly used to treat symptoms such as aggression, irritability, and repetitive behaviors. These medications can help improve communication and social interaction [4].
  • Stimulant medications: Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse are often prescribed to address hyperactivity and impulsivity, aiding in improving focus and attention in individuals with autism.
  • Antidepressant medications: Prozac, Zoloft, and Celexa may be used to manage symptoms such as anxiety and depression in individuals with autism. These medications can potentially improve sleep and reduce repetitive behaviors [4].

It's important to remember that medication approaches for autism treatment should always be carefully considered and discussed with a healthcare professional. Each individual with autism may have unique needs and may respond differently to different medications. Regular monitoring and evaluation are essential to ensure the medication's effectiveness and to address any potential side effects.

To explore alternative approaches beyond medication, you may be interested in reading about autism and complementary therapies or autism and biomedical interventions.

Dietary Interventions

In addition to evidence-based therapies and medication approaches, some individuals with autism have explored alternative treatments, including dietary interventions. While it's important to note that these interventions may not work for everyone and should be discussed with a healthcare professional, two dietary approaches that have gained attention in the autism community are the GFCF diet and probiotics.


The GFCF (Gluten-Free and Casein-Free) diet involves eliminating gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, and casein, a protein found in milk and dairy products, from the individual's diet. Advocates of this diet believe that gluten and casein may worsen the symptoms of autism, such as behavior, social interaction, and communication difficulties.

While some studies have suggested that the GFCF diet may have positive effects on individuals with autism, it's important to note that the evidence is limited and not conclusive. It's worth mentioning that experts, including those at WebMD, do not recommend specific diets for children with autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, eliminating gluten or casein from the diet has not been proven to be a helpful treatment for ASD. In fact, limiting dairy products can prevent proper bone development, so it's essential to ensure that individuals with autism receive proper nutrition.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in some foods or taken as supplements. These live microorganisms can help improve gut health in individuals with autism, potentially leading to improved behavior and reduced gastrointestinal symptoms [4]. While research is ongoing, some studies have suggested a potential link between the gut microbiome and autism. Probiotics may help restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which could have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.

It's important to note that the use of probiotics in individuals with autism should be discussed with a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance on the appropriate strains and dosages based on the individual's specific needs and health condition.

When considering dietary interventions for autism, it's crucial to approach them with caution. Individual responses to these interventions can vary, and it's important to seek guidance from healthcare professionals or registered dietitians experienced in working with individuals with autism. They can provide personalized recommendations and ensure that any dietary changes do not compromise proper nutrition.

To explore other complementary and alternative therapies for autism, such as music therapy and sensory integration therapy, refer to our article on autism and complementary therapies.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

In addition to evidence-based and traditional treatment options, there are complementary and alternative therapies that some individuals with autism find beneficial. These therapies aim to address specific challenges associated with autism and provide alternative approaches to support individuals in their development and daily lives. Two such therapies include music therapy and sensory integration therapy.

Music Therapy

Music therapy has shown promise in improving various skills in individuals with autism. A Cochrane review conducted in 2014, analyzing 10 randomized controlled trials, found that music therapy may help children with autism improve their skills in social interaction, verbal communication, initiating behavior, and social-emotional reciprocity [5].

The rhythmic and melodic elements of music can engage individuals with autism and provide a structured and enjoyable medium for communication and self-expression. Music therapists use various techniques, such as singing, playing instruments, and movement to music, to encourage social engagement, emotional expression, and cognitive development in individuals with autism.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy aims to address sensory processing difficulties commonly experienced by individuals with autism. This therapy focuses on helping individuals process and respond appropriately to sensory information from their environment. While some studies have shown significant improvement in several core symptoms, such as communication, social reciprocity, and motor activity, it is important to note that not all studies have utilized standardized outcome measures and well-defined control groups.

Sensory integration therapy involves engaging individuals in structured activities that provide sensory input, such as swinging, jumping, or playing with tactile materials. These activities are designed to help individuals regulate their sensory responses, improve sensory processing, and enhance their overall ability to engage with their environment.

It's important to approach complementary and alternative therapies with careful consideration and consultation with healthcare professionals. While some individuals may find these therapies helpful, it's crucial to ensure that they are used in conjunction with evidence-based treatments and under the guidance of qualified practitioners.

For a comprehensive understanding of other treatment options, including evidence-based therapies, medication approaches, and dietary interventions, please refer to the respective sections in this article.

Controversial Treatments

While there are evidence-based therapies and treatments that have shown effectiveness in managing autism, it's important to be aware of treatments that lack scientific validation. In this section, we will discuss two categories of controversial treatments: unproven therapies and complementary and alternative therapies (CAM).

Unproven Therapies

Unproven therapies refer to treatments that have not been scientifically validated for autism and lack substantial evidence supporting their effectiveness. It is crucial to exercise caution when considering these treatments, as they may not provide the desired outcomes and could potentially be harmful.

Some examples of unproven therapies that are currently not scientifically validated for autism include:

  • Chelation therapy
  • Lupron therapy
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT)
  • Gluten Free-Casein Free (GFCF) Diet
  • Stem Cell Therapy
  • Secretin Injections
  • Antifungal Agent Therapy
  • Vitamin Supplements
  • Raw Camel Milk
  • Marijuana Therapy
  • Nicotine Patch Therapy
  • Bleach Therapy
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

While these therapies may be popular or promoted by some individuals or groups, it's important to note that they lack scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness and safety [2]. It is generally recommended to prioritize evidence-based treatments and consult with healthcare professionals familiar with autism before considering unproven therapies.

CAM Therapies

Complementary and Alternative Therapies (CAM) refer to treatments that are outside the realm of conventional medical practices. These therapies are often used alongside evidence-based approaches, but it's important to note that they may not have sufficient scientific evidence to support their effectiveness for autism.

Examples of CAM therapies that individuals may explore for autism include:

  • Horseback riding therapy
  • Swimming with dolphins therapy
  • High-dose vitamin therapy
  • Electromagnet therapy
  • Drinking unpasteurized camel milk

While these activities may be enjoyable and provide certain benefits, it's crucial to remember that they do not directly impact autism and should be done in conjunction with evidence-based approaches. It's always recommended to discuss any CAM therapies with healthcare professionals to ensure they align with the overall treatment plan and goals.

When considering treatments for autism, it's essential to prioritize evidence-based therapies and interventions. These treatments, such as behavioral therapies like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), along with occupational therapy (OT) and speech therapy, have a solid foundation of scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness in minimizing the impact of core features and associated deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Additionally, medication approaches, such as FDA-approved drugs and related symptom medications, can be considered in consultation with healthcare professionals. For more information on medication management for autism, visit our article on autism and medication management.

It's crucial to make informed decisions when selecting treatments for autism, prioritizing evidence-based approaches, and consulting with healthcare professionals who specialize in the field.


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