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Support Growing For Autism Behavior Therapy


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Behavior specialist Lamar Williams conducts a therapy session at an autism center in Prestonsburg, Ky. A new review finds more evidence backing behavioral intervention for kids with autism. (John Flavell/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

Behavior specialist Lamar Williams conducts a therapy session at an autism center in Prestonsburg, Ky. A new review finds more evidence backing behavioral intervention for kids with autism. (John Flavell/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

A new government-backed review finds that there is substantially more evidence for behavior therapy in treating autism than even just a few years ago.

In a report released this month, Vanderbilt University researchers combed research journals to assess what’s known about the effectiveness of behavioral interventions for children with autism through age 12. The review, produced for the federal government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is an update to a 2011 report.

Since that time, there has been a significant uptick in quality studies looking at the impact of various behavioral interventions, the researchers said. The current review assessed 65 studies of which 19 were considered to be good quality. By comparison, just two of the 45 studies on behavioral interventions included in the 2011 report met that threshold.

In particular, early intervention that is intensive and based on the principles of applied behavior analysis “can significantly affect the development of some children with ASD,” the report found.

Beyond ABA-based therapies, the researchers indicated that training programs for moms and dads did improve parenting behaviors, but there was less evidence regarding the impact on children’s development. Cognitive behavioral therapy, social skills interventions and play-based approaches also have some support, the review indicated.

“We are finding more solid evidence, based on higher quality studies, that these early intensive behavioral interventions can be effective for young children on the autism spectrum, especially related to their cognitive and language skills,” said Amy Weitlauf of Vanderbilt who led the review. “But the individual response to these treatments often varies from child to child.”

More research is needed to better understand why some children with autism are more receptive than others to various interventions, Weitlauf said.

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Comments (11 Responses)

  1. usethebrainsgodgiveyou says:

    “But the individual response to these treatments often varies from child to child.” This caveat has been used for 50 years. If it doesn’t work, it’s not our fault, there’s something wrong with the child. Catherine Lord worked with Lovaas, and did a long term study that showed it had no advantage over any other type of therapy for the10% of kids will advance beyond initial assessments. She is a protegee of the man who began all the fuss. She feels a happy autistic child is a better goal than a miserable child who “is indistinguishable from his [non-autistic] peers.”

    Funny, that.

  2. autism mom says:

    sorry but ABA is not enough especially when you have a child with debilitating, chronic GI problems, seizures or severe sensory disturbance that inhibits their ability to function. Research from respected establishments like UC Davis MIND Institute, Johns Hopkins, Arkansas Childrens Hospital and Caltech show an underlying neuro-immune problem, neuroinflammation and a difference in gut microbiota/dysbiosis in children with autism. Autism is MEDICAL!! So, beyond ABA, substantial investments should be made in medical treatment options for those who seek it.

  3. vmgillen says:

    A reminder: young children are not the only segment of the population which may benefit from behavioural intervention. Indeed, an argument is often made against funding ABA-type intervention for 8 or nine year old children is that the “window of opportunity” has passed. That is bogus, but the reality gets lost in the early-intervention publicity.

  4. Gina Green says:

    When the entire body of relevant scientific evidence is considered, there is actually much more support for applied behavior analysis (ABA) interventions (as opposed to those that are said to be “based on” ABA) to build skills in people with ASD of all ages than is described in the AHRQ reports.

  5. Debra says:

    Honestly that is just wonderful, but what can I do with that but sulk. Sulk that my child is not funded, that the programs in the area are few and cost is unaffordable, and that even after the $3000.00 deductible I have almost reached for my child (not to mention all of the out of pocket therapies that could not be submitted pre-diagnoses, and uncovered) I will pay hundreds out of pocket monthly for a treatment like this. We are broke and treading water! As if we had a choice. My son was just denied state funding and the only way I can understand it is that they have specific tests they except and regardless of other proof of occurring behaviors across two or more settings they keep those gates tight. So yes, my child has a impressive IQ on certain testing, he still has significant ASD, ADHD and can’t function in public, wanders off into unsafe areas without regard for safety or supervision, and needs to sit in a cart if I dare take him to the store, needs constant prompting, assistance and accommodations for daily functioning skills such as eating with utensils, dressing, brushing teeth all at the age of almost six years old. I am preaching to the choir I know, but the church won’t hear it!

  6. Amy says:

    ABA has been amazing at helping my son!

  7. Dana says:

    Lovaas claimed a 47% success rate back in 1987 when he used only non-professionals.
    Today, no one talks about the rate of successful outocmes even though, they now require a BCBA.
    For some reason, no one is saying anything about the fact that 47% success rate probably never happened. Can anyone claim and prove that there is at least 1% success rate????
    This article talks about “significantly affecitng the development…” but it says nothing about “recovery” as Lovaas et al. (including Tristram Smith who is mentioned in the “review”) had originally claimed.

  8. Bessie says:

    The studies and results are welcomed. However, we have heard that ABA has a lot of valuable results. It is time for us to move ahead and talk about availability of services. I want to know when are we going to focus on making ABA more assessable to low-income families.

  9. NancyL says:

    I work as a job developer with adults with all types and functioning levels of intellectual/developmental disabilities, including some “on the spectrum.” Human behavior in general can be very complex so assisting ASD individuals with behavior issues can be absolutely one of the most challenging tasks ever, given the difficulty of knowing for certain where the problem is coming from. Just to get them to a point of functioning vocationally can be extremely difficult. And then depending on the severity of their condition, paid employment may never happen.

    I believe in the benefits of mainstream behavioral therapy and techniques, and have seen them work successfully. One-size, however, does not fit all! Any support professionals involved must consider this when dealing with ASD or any other I/D disability. A holistic approach (including medical) is the only way when behavioral issues cannot be solved using mainstream techniques. And using a more holistic approach takes time and money; and time and money or funding is at a premium. And many parents and caregivers, who are the main support system may barely have the time, much less the kind of money required to get the best care, whether or not they’ve been approved and receive funding from their respective State of residence and/or receive SSI funding.

    So hopefully, as more research is done, ASD can be treated more successfully during childhood so these difficulties can be dealt with and solved or at least successfully managed before moving into adulthood, which then brings on even more challenges and need for professional and financial support. As readers of Disability Scoop know, many millions of people across the country are on a long waiting list for services and families and caregivers are stressed to the max (financially and emotionally) while waiting, and others can’t even get on the list…and are “pulling their hair out” and struggle to maintain daily life. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

  10. Danny says:

    Early Intensive Behavorial Interventions treamnets has been great for those who it has helped. However, as we know EIBI treatments has not always worked for some children with ASD The big questions still remain the same. What new EIBI treatments can be implemented to help all children with ASD or what can ABA do better to help those children who have not showed any signs of improvements in thier cognitive or social ability during time frame of participating in a EIBI program.

  11. Lynn says:

    For those that are interested in ABA, but treading water and can’t afford it, I advise you to check out Neurological Re-organization or NR Therapy. We’ve seen HUGE, HUGE gains in MANY children in the state of MI. A NR therapist travels to MI to assess children individually and give parents their children’s “program”. Our son started this in kindergarten – within just a few weeks he was making more progress than we EVER saw in YEARS of OT and floor-time therapy. This therapy helps to provide new neuro connections in the brain- it’s amazing! Also much cheaper than ABA and shows improvement on EVERY child that uses it. Unfortunately, there is a large percentage of children that use ABA that do not recover or get significantly better- just the opposite of NR therapy. Google Sarge Goodchild for amazing story of someone who recovered using this therapy- he once had the diagnosis of MR, CP, and the worst seizure disorder that Boston Children’s Hospital had ever seen. Today he helps kids and adults and has spoken at Autism One.

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