Among the many challenges that parents face when their child is diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum, one of the most important decisions is how to go about treatments. There are a litany of options available to parents and caretakers, and deciding which works best for their family can be overwhelming, even with the aid of medical professionals.

One of the more prevalent debates in the history of autism has been whether to use aversive or non-aversive treatment methods. Which method has more effective and longer lasting results? Researchers have overwhelmingly proven that a non-aversive positive reward based approach is a more effective way to behavioral change.

Today we’ll be looking at some of the more popular non-aversive approaches, which heavily emphasize positive behavior strategies, as opposed to punishment or taking things away, which are consequences associated with aversive techniques. The encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders defines non-aversive treatment as:

“…intervention (that) involves the application of positive reinforcement and/or extinction contingencies as a consequence to a behavior, or alteration of the intensity, duration, or magnitude of a behavior contingent upon the removal or presentation of an antecedent stimulus.”

Some of the top non-aversive techniques in autism treatment include the following:

1. Adapting The Environment

Changing an autistic individual’s environment to reduce behavioral episodes can be an effective technique. Removing stimuli—such as persons, locations, or situations that are observed to create tension, anxiety, and frustration—can have a soothing effect. Providing organized and consistent structure is also key. This can be achieved by planning calendars of activities and consistent routines, thereby limiting unexpected events that could cause stress. It can also be helpful to inform others who may come into contact with the individual, so that they may avoid introducing stressful stimuli and aid in behavior observation.


2. Positive Behavior Supports

This technique refers to a behavior management system used to understand the reasoning behind inappropriate behavior, instead of simply reprimanding that behavior. By developing individualized positive behavior support plans, a caregiver builds pride in accomplishments and instills a sense of responsibility in those on the spectrum. This can help reduce the anxiety that often leads to aggressive behaviors exhibiting themselves in the first place. Some helpful strategies for yielding these type of behavioral supports include:

  • Celebrating strengths and successes by accentuating positive feedback.
  • Respecting and listening to the child and their reasoning for their actions.
  • Validating the child’s concerns and emotions instead of brushing them off.
  • Providing clear and concise expectations of behavior.
  • Ignoring challenging behaviors, and staying the course despite them.

3. Teach Replacement Skills

The goal here is to replace potentially inappropriate behaviors with more adaptive skills, focused on communication, social skills, and self-regulation. These skills can be established in several ways, such as:

  • Developing functional communication skills, be they language, sign language, or device interaction that helps the individual to go through their daily activities.
  • Using social stories to build social awareness and skills.
  • Creating an activity schedule to reduce anxiety and promote independence.

There are many potential benefits to non-aversive therapy. Instead of simply doling out punishment for the individual on the spectrum’s outbursts, these techniques instead aim to avoid the situations, persons, and behaviors that trigger outbursts in the first place. In this way, the quality of life for everyone involved can be improved with an optimized environment, positive behavior supports, and replacement skills firmly in place.