Beneficial Therapies for Autism

If you’re trying to help an individual with autism, you can choose from the many therapies (i.e., practices, interventions, treatments) available. At the Autism Society of Indiana (ASI), we prefer to recommend evidence-based practices (EBP) that stem from scientific research.

Other types of therapies exist and some of those may be helpful. However, it makes more sense to us to focus on those therapies that have shown repeated results and meet the rigorous criteria established by the scientific community of qualified research specialists.

So Much to Know About Evidence-Based Practices

For decades, the medical and scientific communities in the U.S. and abroad have been conducting extensive investigation and research into the causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), along with effective treatments for autism.

It would take a series of many articles to cover all of the knowledge on the subject of evidence-based practices, so in this article, we’ll just introduce you to the topic of beneficial therapies and provide you with links to information that delves deeper into the subject.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): The Gold Standard for EBP

For any type of scientific research, collecting information in a database and then analyzing the data is essential. Autism research is no different. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the gold standard of data-driven autism research that leads to effective evidence-based therapeutic practices.

Autism researchers using ABA will choose a behavior associated with the condition. Then they’ll collect data about how often that behavior occurs, along with what happens before, during, and after the behavior occurs. Then they’ll use that data to modify the behavior and track the results over time. They’ll continue to tweak the behavior until it becomes socially appropriate.

As a simplified example of how ABA is used, let’s say a child with autism likes to spin when he is trying to indicate he wants something. A registered behavioral therapist (RBT) would work with that child over an extended period of time to try to convert the child’s behavior from spinning, for example, just wagging a finger to indicate he wants something. The therapist would collect data about the child’s behavior and response to treatment during each therapy session. The therapist’s process of continuously adjusting the child’s behavior would be based on the analysis of that data by a board-certified behavioral analyst (BCBA) who will create an individualize program for that child.


EBP Research Project

One of the reasons ASI promotes evidence-based practices is because so much high-level research has been conducted by so many esteemed institutions and scholars. From 2007 to 2014, the US Department of Education funded an extensive EBP research project by the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (NPDC) in conjunction with three major universities.

The result of this NPDC project is a catalog of 27 focused interventions that have been shown through scientific research to be effective when implemented correctly. You can feel confident that using these therapies offer the best chance for noticeable improvement.

Other Therapies

Many therapies that are not evidence-based—because they do not meet the strict criteria of scientific research—are also available to individuals with autism. Some of these controversial therapies, such as MMS, have the potential to be harmful, so we urge extreme caution if you consider using any therapy not backed by science.

Ask an Autism Ally

ASI is an all-options organization, follow this link to view our Options Policy. In addition to promoting evidence-based practices, an Autism Ally will inform you about therapies that are not evidence-based, if you make that request. In general, you have a much greater chance of seeing positive results when you use proven EBP that have significant research data to support their use and have the backing of the scientific community.

Kelly Pence, ASI Autism AllyThanks to Andrea Gilkison, Autism Society of Indiana Autism Ally, for her contribution to this article. If you have any questions, please contact her at or by calling 800-609-8449 ext. 404.

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