Is ABA effective?
Does it work?
Perhaps the most often asked question about ABA is “does it work?”. Numerous studies in professional journals document that early intensive behavioral intervention can result in unprecedented outcomes for young children with autism spectrum disorders (Maurice et. al. 1996). The groundbreaking 1987 Lovaas study showed that 47% of children who received early intensive behavioral intervention attained normal cognitive and intellectual functioning and were able to complete first grade with typical peers and without special education supports. These children achieved normal intellectual and educational functioning and could not be distinguished from their peers. A follow up study on the children who comprised the 47% revealed that they maintained their gains into adulthood and were indistinguishable from their peers.
In addition, research conducted by the Wisconsin Early Autism Project confirmed that more than one in three children who participated in an extensive home-based ABA program attained the IQ and social functioning of their typical peers. In all, the children in the ABA group averaged a 22-point gain in IQ points in the first year. In contrast, children in typical special education classes showed a 7-point loss in IQ points in the first year (Sallows and Graupner, 1999).
The Surgeon General’s report on mental health stated “Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of ABA in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.
While it may be true that the best time to start treatment is at a very young age, most older children also can benefits from intensive behavioral intervention (Leaf and McEachin, 1999).
It should be noted, however, that intensive behavioral intervention is by no means a “cure” for autism. No amount of behavioral therapy can cure the underlying and so far unknown etiology of autism. Intensive behavioral intervention is effective in remediating many symptoms of autism thereby recovering children in that their behavior may become “indistinguishable from their peers.”