There is a growing movement towards recognising neurodiversity as a natural and valuable form of human variation. This perspective challenges many conventional views about neurological conditions like autism. In particular, it questions the effectiveness of traditional autism therapies in helping autistic children. In this blog, I’ll be exploring how the neurodiversity paradigm calls for a rethink of these therapies.

What is Neurodiversity?

The neurodiversity movement advocates that conditions like autism, ADHD and dyslexia should be seen as natural variations in the human brain rather than ‘disorders’ that need to be fixed. The key principles are that neurological differences are just a part of natural diversity, and that autistic people and others have unique strengths as well as challenges.

Neurodiversity proponents like Jude Morrow, founder of the UK-based business Neurodiversity Training, argue that we need to move away from therapy approaches aimed at ‘normalising’ autistic people or forcing them to hide their natural differences. Instead, the focus should be on fostering self-acceptance, creating supportive environments and developing strengths.

Current Landscape of Autism Therapies

In the UK, many autistic children undergo therapies aimed at reducing behaviours judged as ‘abnormal’. These include play-based interventions like Floortime, speech and drama therapies, sensory integration therapy and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). The overarching aim is to make autistic children appear more ‘normal’.

Critics point out that these interventions often happen without the autistic person’s consent. There is also little scientific evidence that such therapies deliver substantially improved life outcomes. Tragically, some approaches have even been linked to PTSD and long-term trauma.

Most concerning for neurodiversity advocates is that many therapies reinforce the damaging idea that autistic people need to be ‘fixed’ to fit into society. There is minimal acceptance of different neurological wiring as natural.

Examining Outcomes and Effectiveness

While some autism therapies show minor improvements in specific areas like communication skills, overall evidence for their long-term effectiveness is minimal.

For example, multiple studies of ABA effectiveness reveal extremely mixed results. While some show minor gains in IQ or school performance, many others demonstrate no long-term improvements in social adjustment or quality of life. Other analyses indicate that up to half of autistic children receiving ABA suffer negative side effects like anxiety.

Similarly lacklustre results are found for other common interventions like Floortime and speech therapy. And remarkably few studies bother to measure the therapy outcomes that likely matter most to autistic children and their families – self-esteem, life satisfaction and mental wellbeing.

The research is clear that the majority of autism therapies fail to deliver meaningful and sustained benefits. However, this had led to little change in medical guidelines or standard practice.

Examining Outcomes and Effectiveness

For meaningful progress, the neurodiversity paradigm demands that therapies for autistic people become aligned with three vital principles:

Firstly, they must recognise both strengths and challenges, not just deficiencies. Secondly, they need to adopt a participatory and consent-focused approach, with the autistic person actively involved. Finally, supporting self-esteem and self-advocacy should be central aims, not side effects.

Jude Morrow’s UK-based training business Neurodiversity Training is one pioneer of this approach. Their work with autistic teens and youth develops personal strategies rooted in understanding one’s own neurology and celebrating neurodiversity. Participants are empowered to express their needs and make decisions around therapies or support.

Such neurodiversity-aligned therapies can foster happiness and success for autistic children without masking their natural selves. Critically, the focus is on adapting social environments to accept and include neurodiversity, not the other way around.

Rethinking Autism Therapies

Traditional autism therapies often fail our children by not delivering real improvements and even inflicting deep trauma. The neurodiversity paradigm compels us to abandon ‘normalising’ interventions in favour of approaches that accept natural neurological differences.

There is an urgent need for greater openness to new, progressive models of therapy and support for autistic people. We must create environments where autistic children feel valued, respected and able to thrive as their true selves. Only then can they have the childhoods they deserve.