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Learning Center Experience
By Bobby Buckner, MS, BCBA
prevalence of autism is increasing, though it is still unclear whether the
increase is due to greater numbers of children being affected by the disorder
or better methods of detecting it. Autism is characterized by difficulty
communicating and relating to others. Children with autism may also engage in
repetitive behaviors that interfere with learning and may display other
challenging behaviors such as aggression, self-injurious behavior, and
disruption to the physical environment. These challenging behaviors often arise
secondary to the child’s difficulty expressing his or her wants and needs
(Tiger, Hanley, & Bruzek, 2008). Autism now affects 1 in 88 children in the
United States (ADDM, 2012), and this has created a demand for newer and better
evidence-based treatments. Since autism cannot be cured, most treatments for
the disorder focus on the behavioral and educational needs of children with
autism. Children with autism may also require medical intervention to address
co-occurring medical conditions (e.g., seizures). The demand for effective
treatment has unfortunately given rise to a number of “therapies” that have
dubious value or can, in some cases, be harmful (Green & Perry, n.d.).
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is an effective treatment for autism
with strong empirical support (Goldstein, 2002; Odom, Brown, Frey, Karasu,
Smith-Canter, & Strain, 2003; McConnell, 2002; Horner, Carr, Strain, Todd,
& Reed, 2002). Practitioners of ABA use principles of learning to teach
children with autism new skills, maintain established skills, and decrease and
eliminate challenging or interfering behavior. ABA has proven to be
particularly effective at addressing deficits in communication (Sautter & LaBlanc, 2006) and
social skills (Strain & Schwartz (2001). Children may experience large and
robust improvement when they receive ABA through early and intensive behavioral
intervention (Howard, Sparkman, Cohen, Green, & Stanislaw, 2005; Sallows
& Graupner, 2005). Under this model, children receive ABA beginning before
age four but as early as possible, and they receive ABA for 20 to 40 hours per
week for two to three years (ASAT, n.d.).
Cost of such intensive intervention varies,
but can be quite high. Autism Speaks estimates that the costs associated with autism
are $60,000 per child each year (Autism Speaks, n.d.). Intensive ABA represents
a large portion of that expense, and until relatively recently many of these
were out-of-pocket expenses for families, leaving many families unable to
access this highly effective treatment. Thirty-seven states now have laws
related to insurance coverage for autism and 31 specifically mandate coverage
in at least certain situations (NCSL, 2012). Behavioral intervention is but one
of the services covered under these mandates. This movement is making accessing
ABA realistic for many families that otherwise would be unable to afford it. It
is also creating a demand for licensure of behavior analyst in addition to the
current credential as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. It is important, however, that
families of children with autism understand that licensing, in those states
where it is required, and board certification do not guarantee that a behavior
analyst is qualified. It is recommended that consumers become familiar with the
training and experience of any behavior analyst with whom they consult. This is
important now more than ever because insurance coverage means more families are
seeking ABA for their child with autism.
Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) (n.d.). Early intensive behavioral
intervention/treatment. Retrieved from: http://www.asatonline.org/treatment/procedures/early.htm
Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network (n.d.). ADDM Network fact sheet. Retrieved from
Speaks (n.d.). Facts about autism.
Retrieved from http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/facts-about-autism.
H. (2002). Communication intervention for children with autism: A review of
treatment efficacy. Journal of Autism and
Developmental Disorders, 32, 373-396.
Green, G. & Perry, L. (n.d.). Science,
pseudoscience, and antiscience. Retrieved from http://www.asatonline.org/treatment/articles/sciencepseudoscience.htm
R. H., 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.
J. S., Sparkman, C. R., Cohen, H. G., Green, G., & Stanislaw, H. (2005). A
comparison of intensive behavior analytic and eclectic treatments for young
children with autism. Research in
Developmental Disabilities, 26, 359-383.
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.
Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) (2012). Insurance coverage for autism. Retrieved from
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.
Sallows, G.O., Graupner,
T.D. (2005). Intensive behavioral treatment for children with
autism: Four-year outcome and predictors. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 110, 417-438.
R.A., LeBlanc, L.A. (2006). Empirical applications of Skinner’s Analysis of
Verbal Behavior with Humans. The Analysis
of Verbal Behavior, 22, 35-48.
Strain, P.S., & Schwartz, I. (2001). ABA
and the development of meaningful social relations for young children with
autism. Focus of
Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 16, 120-128.
Tiger, J.H., Hanley, G.P., & Bruzek, J.
(2008). Functional communication training: A review and practical guide. Behavior
Analysis in Practice, 1,
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