Applied Behaviour Analysis

There are many forms of behavioural therapies, but the one consistently shown to be the most successful for  children is known as Applied Behaviour Analysis (“ABA”). Initially developed by Prof. O. Ivar Lovaas at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), it gained popularity after the publication of “Let Me Hear Your Voice” by Catherine Maurice, a moving and inspirational account of how a family used ABA to completely recover two children from autism. Despite attempts by the educational establishment to promote methods such as TEACH because of their lower cost, ABA remains the only empirically-validated educational method for children with autism.

ABA essentially works by breaking down all the life skills a child has to learn into small steps, more easily grasped by a child whose ability to process complex tasks is impaired. By rewarding the mastery of each step, the child is gradually taught verbal communication, self-help (e.g. toilet raining), appropriate interaction with others etc. This process must be carried out in a one-to-one situation with an adult for about 40 hours per week, and as such is not a very “natural” way for a child to learn. However, since the ability to learn “naturally” has been impaired, it makes sense to use a method from which the child can learn. In this way he/she gradually absorbs the knowledge and develops the skills he/she needs to become independent and function like a normal child. Normal functioning cannot be guaranteed, but ABA gives them the best chance – research shows that 85% of children with autism make measurable gains with ABA.

There is a drawback with ABA: it is expensive and very onerous for the parents. Enlisting an ABA provider company is only the start. In order to reach the required 40 hours of therapy per week, one has to recruit a team of people locally and buy a whole host of materials. The task of managing the team, administering the programme and ensuring that every team member is constantly up to speed on the child’s next targets is an exacting task that usually falls on the shoulders of one of the parents. In this context it is essential that only one parent goes out to work: the other must be fully dedicated to managing the ABA programme.

A first-class provider of ABA services in the UK is UK Young Autism Project, which was started by Svein Eikeseth PhD, a close associate of Prof. Lovaas. Background information and support can also be obtained from the charity Peach. Funding can sometimes be obtained from Local Education Authorities, but this is a drawn-out process often involving solicitors specialised in special educational needs cases. Often the expense and risk associated with using a solicitor is not justified, in which case IPSEA in the UK can provide free legal advice and support from volunteers who have had previous experience of SEN Tribunal cases. Fundraising activities such as sponsored cycle rides may need to be carried out in the interim, and it is sometimes possible to obtain initial ABA funding from the Caudwell Charity.