09 June 2011
Much attention has been given to the importance and effectiveness of intensive behavior intervention for very young children with Autism; however, a Meeting Point Article from the Lovaas Institute website, “Data-Based Research in Applied Behavior Analysis for Older Children with Autism,” (June, 2007) points out that research has also demonstrated that behavior therapy has a significant impact on the lives of older children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Behavior therapy is used primarily to improve the quality of an individual’s life. Research has shown that this can be accomplished for people of all ages through Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In fact, the Lovaas article points out the there are over 70 published research articles which document the use of Applied Behavior Analysis to teach new skills to people with Autism over the age of five. Below is a short review of some of this research.
Koegel, Firestone, Kramme & Dunlap (1974) looked at the spontaneous play of two children with Autism (ages 8 and 6) with high occurrences of self-stimulatory behaviors. During the first phase of the study, the researchers observed and recorded the children’s levels of spontaneous play and self-stimulatory behaviors. During the treatment phase, the researchers implemented behavior therapy to decrease the self-stimulatory behaviors and recorded the levels of spontaneous play that the children exhibited. During the last phase, the researchers stopped trying to decrease the self-stimulatory behaviors and recorded the levels of spontaneous play for a third time. This study’s results demonstrated that when self-stimulatory behaviors were suppressed in these two older children, their levels of spontaneous play increased significantly.
In another study Gena, Krantz, Mclannahan & Poulson (1996) examined whether appropriate affective behavior (i.e., showing emotions that are appropriate for the situation) could be taught to four older children with Autism (ages 11.3 – 18.9 years). They also investigated whether these behaviors would generalize to new responses, across new settings, and to new therapists at a one-month follow up. The treatment consisted of modeling, prompting, and reinforcing the appropriate emotional responses. The results indicated that appropriate emotional responses systematically increased throughout the treatment phase for all four children. Also, it was found that the children were exhibiting the new appropriate responses with untrained scenarios, with new therapists, in new settings, and at new times, suggesting that generalization occurred.
Lastly, a study conducted by Gaylord-Ross, Haring, Breen & Pitts-Conway (1984) looked to increase the initiations and duration of social interactions between adolescents with Autism and their typically developing peers. The subjects were two adolescent males with IQ’s ranging from 30-55. Using Applied Behavior Analysis, the boys were successfully taught how to use common leisure items (i.e., radio, video games and gum) to initiate elaborate social interactions with typical peers. The boys then generalized the skills to new peers in the same setting.
All three of these studies, and there are many more like them, show that Applied Behavior Analysis is very effective for helping improve the quality of life for older children with Autism.