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Many interventions claim to be highly effective in helping children with Autism but are not supported by independent peer-reviewed research. You should always ask the question "Where is the research?" If published research is not available then the intervention has not been validated.

At this moment in time the ONLY scientifically validated effective intervention for children with Autism early intensive Applied Behaviour Analysis. Back in 1987, Lovaas published a study which found that 47% of the children receiving early intensive behavioural intervention were able to function independently and successfully in regular classrooms. Another 40% or so made substantial improvements but continued to need some specialised intervention; and about 10% made minimal gains and continued to need intensive intervention.

These findings have since been replicated in a number of studies including: Fenske et al (1985), Anderson et al (1987), Smith et al (1997), Smith et al (2000), Bibby et al (2001), and Eikeseth et al (2002).

More recently, Howard et al (2005) examined the eclectic education versus intensive behavioural therapy debate. Twenty-nine children receiving intensive behavioural therapy (25-40 hours per week) were compared to 16 children receiving 30 hours in an "eclectic" education classroom, as well as 16 children receiving non-intensive behavioural intervention (15 hours per week). Once again results showed that those children receiving intensive behavioural intervention returned better scores in cognitive functioning, non-verbal language and communication skills than those in the "eclectic" and "non-intensive" groups. The only area where no difference was recorded was in motor skills. Sallows & Graupner (2005) carried out a replication of the original Lovaas (1987) study. Of the 24 children 48% showed rapid learning, achieved age appropriate post-treatment scores, and at age 7, were succeeding in regular education classrooms. Their progress will be followed into their teens to assess long-term outcomes.

Similarly, Cohen et al (2006) compared 21 children receiving early intensive behavioural therapy (35-40 hours per week) to 21 children in special education classes in public school. After three years results showed that 6 of the behavioural intervention children were placed in regular classes and a further 11 were included in regular education with support. In comparison only one child from the other group was placed in regular education. Also, Eldevik et al (2006) compared low intensity behaviour therapy (12 hours per week) to a similar level of "eclectic" education. Outcomes suggested that the behavioural group made larger gains than the "eclectic" group but that the differences were quite modest. This research backs up others in suggesting that intensity of intervention is an important factor in effectiveness.

There is no shortage of research pointing to the efficacy of using behavioural interventions when educating children on the Autism Spectrum. This research has also been independently validated;

"research has shown that intervention and educational programming based on the principles and practices of applied behaviour analysis can produce rapid, complex, and durable improvements in cognitive, social-communication, play, and self-help skills. Application of behaviour-analytic principles is very effective in replacing and/or reducing maladaptive behaviours"

California Departments of Education and Developmental Services, Collaborative Work Group on Autistic Spectrum Disorders. (1997, July). Best Practices for Designing and Delivering Effective Programs for Individuals With Autistic Spectrum Disorders. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education

"early and intensive behavioural intervention is at present the only appropriate treatment" New York State Department of Health, Early Intervention Program. (1999, May). Clinical Practice Guidelines: Autism/Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Assessment and Intervention for Young Children. Albany, NY

"It is beyond debate that the appropriate treatment is ABA or early intensive behavioural intervention".Supreme Court of British Columbia (2000)

"Thirty years of research have demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioural methods in reducing inappropriate behaviour and increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behaviour." Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, 21st March, 2000, p.5

If someone suggests that you should use a specific intervention with your child simply ask them to produce peer reviewed scientific research articles to support the efficacy of the intervention. If you are unsure, contact Peat for advice and assistance »


Cohen, H., Amerine-Dickens, M., Smith, T., "Early Intensive Behavioral Treatment: Replication of the UCLA Model in a Community Setting," Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 27 (2006) S145-S155.

Eldevik, S., Eikeseth, S., Jahr, E., and Smith, T., "Effects of Low-Intensity Behavioral Treatment for Children with Autism and Mental Retardation", Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36 (2006) 211-224

Howard, J.S., Sparkman, C.R., Cohen, H.G., Green, G., Stanislaw, H., "A comparison of intensive behavior analytic and eclectic treatments for young children with autism",Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26 (2005) 359-383

Sallows, G.O., and Graupner, T.D., "Intensive Behavioral Treatment for Children With Autism: Four-Year Outcome and Predictors", American Association on Mental Retardation, 110 (2005) 417-438

Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S., "Intensive behavioral treatment at school for 4-7-year-old children with autism: A 1-year comparison controlled study" Behavior Modification, (2002) 49-68.

Smith, T., Eikeseth, S., Klevstrand, M., & Lovaas, O. I., "Intensive behavioral treatment for preschoolers with severe mental retardation and pervasive developmental disorder." American Journal on Mental Retardation, 102 (1997) 238-249.

McEachin, J. J., Smith, T.,& Lovaas, O. I., "Long-term outcome for children with autism who received early intensive behavioral treatment." American Journal on Mental Retardation, 97 (1993) 359-372.

Lovaas, O. I., "Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55 (1987) 3-9.

See also the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) for more, at http://seab.envmed.rochester.edu/jaba/ [External Link] »

If you would like to get a copy of the full paper please contact Peat for assistance although please be aware that some Journals charge per copy.

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