Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Autism Treatments and Lovaas ABA Treatment for Autism

Autism TreatmentsStudies have shown that ABA is effective in teaching new skills and reducing problem behavior (Goldstein, 2002; Odom et al., 2003; McConnell, 2002; Horner et al., 2002).

Other studies have found that intensive ABA implemented more than 20 hours per week and begun early in life, prior to the age of 4, produces large gains in development and reduces the need for special services (Smith, 1999).

ABA is recommended by the Association for Science in Autism (ASAT) which states: “Because ABA currently has substantially more scientific support than any other behavioral or educational intervention for children with ASD, ASAT recommends that families and professionals strongly consider implementing ABA and be cautious about other approaches. ASAT further recommends that professionals describe other behavioral and educational interventions as untested and encourage families who are considering these interventions to evaluate them carefully.”

The United States Surgeon General states “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning and appropriate social behavior.”

Lovaas ABA Treatment for Autism
With regard to Lovaas ABA Treatment for Autism, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) states the following:
“The Lovaas model of applied behavior analysis was developed in the psychology department of UCLA under the direction of Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas and used in the UCLA Young Autism Project. It is intended to provide intensive early intervention for young children with autism (under four years old when treatment starts). As originally formulated by Lovaas (1987), children receive 40 hours per week of one-to-one ABA instruction for 2-3 years. During the first year, the primary instructional method during this time is individual discrete trial training (see entry) in the child’s home. In the second year, children spend increasing amounts of time having supervised play-dates with typically developing peers (to provide opportunities for peer tutoring and increase social skills), enter general education preschools (to facilitate adjustment to school), and participate in incidental teaching in addition to discrete trial training. During the third and final year, the focus is on gradually reducing individual instruction and increasing inclusion into classroom settings (either in general education if the children can function effectively in that setting, or in special education if the children continue to require specialized support services).

“Research Summary: A number of scientific studies indicate that the Lovaas-UCLA treatment may produce large gains in development and reductions in the need for special services. It may enable some (though not all) children with autism to achieve levels of functioning that are typical of other children their age in many respects. However, because studies have involved small numbers of participants and have had other design limitations, there is a need for large studies of this intervention with strong experimental designs.

“Recommendations: Overall, the Lovaas-UCLA treatment is a highly promising intervention with considerable scientific support, but there continues to be a need for additional research. Because of the promise of this approach, professionals and families may wish to obtain additional information about it.”

Mild Autism Treatments
Mild autism is sometimes diagnosed as Asperger’s syndrome or Pervasive Development Disability-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Although children with mild autism are high functioning is many areas, they still have difficulties such as fixations with a specific interest or social awkwardness. Each person must be carefully evaluated based on his or her weaknesses and strengths. If problems are minimal and seemed to be based on general anxiety, medication and/or therapy might help. If there are greater areas of concern, behavioral intervention may be recommended.

As always, it is important to be aware of each person’s strengths and unique gifts, too. Temple Grandin, an assistant professor, author, and adult with autism makes some interesting observations about this. “ I am becoming increasingly concerned that intellectually gifted children are being denied opportunities because they are being labeled either Asperger’s or high functioning autism. Within the last year I have talked to several parents, and I was disturbed by what they said. One mother called me and was very upset that her six-year-old son had Asperger’s. She then went on to tell me that his IQ was 150. I replied that before people knew about Asperger’s Syndrome, their child would have received a very positive label of intellectually gifted.

“In another case the parents of an Asperger teenager called and told me that they were so concerned about their son’s poor social skills that they would not allow him to take computer programming. I told her that depriving him of a challenging career in computers would make his life miserable. He will get social interaction by shared interests with other computer people. In a third case, a super smart child was not allowed in the talented and gifted program in his school because he had an autism label. Educators need to become aware that intellectually satisfying work makes life meaningful.”

Amantadine Autism Treatment
Amantadine is listed separately here because interest in its use for autism seems to be on the rise. Some claim that it improves negative behaviors like hyperactivity and irritability in children with autism. As with may other medical treatments for autism, there are no scientific studies proving its effectiveness and side effects can be serious. However, one study on amantadine autism treatment found that although parents did not notice any significant behavioral change with amantadine, clinicians did report some improvements in behavioral disturbances. The conclusion was that further studies are necessary to determine whether or not amantadine autism treatment is worth the risks involved.
(Department of Psychiatry, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, NH. See