With all the programs available for children diagnosed with autism, how do I know that ABA is the one that works?
Many treatment programs are available, but few, if any, scientific studies support their use. These therapies remain controversial and may or may not reduce a specific person’s “autistic” behaviors. Parents should use caution before subscribing to any particular treatment that does not have scientific support. ABA methods have been extensively researched (since the 1960’s) with children with the diagnosis of autism and research has demonstrated that ABA methods are effective in teaching new behaviors and reducing maladaptive behaviors. In 1996, more than 550 studies had been published in scientific journals showing the effectiveness of behavior analytic procedures with persons with autism (Matson, et al., 1996). Several studies have demonstrated the effectives of ABA methodology in teaching new skills and increasing behaviors (e.g., Goldstein, 2002; Odom et al., 2003; McConnell, 2002) and reducing undesirable behaviors (e.g., Horner et al., 2002). A number of studies have also indicated that early (prior to the age of 4 years) and intensive (more than 20 hours per week) programs may produce large gains in development and reductions in the need for special services (Smith, 1999). The United States Surgeon General (1999) concluded, “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior.”
Goldstein, H. (2002). Communication intervention for children with autism: A review of treatment efficacy. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 373-396.
Horner, R., Carr, E. G., Strain, P. S., Todd, A. W., & Reed, H. K.(2002). Problem behavior interventions for young children with autism: A research synthesis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 32, 423-446.
McConnell, S. (2002).Interventions to facilitate social interaction for young children with autism: Review of available research and recommendations for educational intervention and future research. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32, 351-372.
Odom, S. L., Brown, W. H., Frey, T., Karasu, N., Smith-Canter, L. L., & Strain, P. S. (2003). Evidence-based practices for young children with autism: Contributions from single-subject design research. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 18, 166-175.
Matson, J. L., Benavidez, D. A., Compton, L. S., Paclwaskyj, T., & Baglio, C. (1996). Behavioral treatment of autistic persons: A review of research from 1980 to the present. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 7, 388-451.
Smith, T. (1999). Outcome of early intervention for children with autism. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 33-49.
United States Surgeon General (1998). Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Washington, DC: Author.
No. A quality ABA program is designed for each individual and considers each child’s preferences and individual skill level when their curriculum is developed. ABA methods target a variety of skills including generalized responding and creative behavior. Thus, a quality program will teach children to respond in natural and creative ways.
Catherine Maurice, a mother of two children diagnosed with autism wrote a book describing her experience with autism and several treatments. Her two children were successfully treated with ABA methodology. The following quote is from her child, Anne-Marie’s pre-kindergarten teachers.
“… Anne-Marie is friendly and caring. She continues to make contact more easily with her peers and she is forming deeper relationships with them…. Anne-Marie feels close to her teachers and is sharing more of her thoughts with them now… Anne-Marie is a cooperative, helpful group member who has learned to take her share of responsibility ….Anne Marie is a capable child who is eager to learn. It’s a pleasure to see Anne-Marie feeling comfortable and relaxed in her school environment and actively enjoying our various group activities with her classmates…” (Maurice, p. 286).
Maurice, Catherine (1993). Let me hear your voice. A family’s triumph over autism. NY: Fawcett Columbine.
Isn’t 20 to 35 hours per week too much for a young child? Shouldn’t young children be allowed to play and develop naturally?
When parents hear that a recommendation has been made for 20 to 35 hours per week, they frequently have visions of their young child sitting at a table with no play time. However, ABA is designed to target socially important behaviors such as play. Thus, children are taught how to appropriately play with objects and toys and how to socialize with other children. A quality ABA intervention includes a variety of skills such as imitation, functional communication (language, pictures, or sign), play, social interaction, adaptive behaviors (e.g. toileting, eating, dressing, etc.), and gross and fine motor skills that are taught in a variety of settings.
Because of the intensive nature of an ABA program, the cost is quite high. Some insurance companies are beginning to pay for some of the cost of therapy. Unfortunately, this typically only covers the cost of the overseeing psychologist and does not cover the cost associated with the teachers that work directly with the child. However, there are some programs available for funding assistance. These funding agencies differ from area to area. The best resource is to contact your local chapter of the American Autism Society for funding information.