Children with autism deserve ABA because there is more scientific evidence demonstrating ABA “works” than there is for any other intervention or treatment.
This reason is often the most important reason for behavior analysts, but not always so for parents of children with autism. Parents rarely cite the many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of studies in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and other journals when asked why they chose ABA to help their children with autism. Instead, many parents point to just one book: Catherine Maurice’s, Let Me Hear Your Voice.
Maurice’s book tells her family’s story of two children diagnosed with autism and their use of behavioral interventions, and the remarkable progress both her children made—both acquired so many skills that they lost their original diagnoses.
In fact the research tells us that quite a few children diagnosed with autism, perhaps as much as 40–50 percent, can learn enough to return to mainstream classrooms if they receive high quality, intensive, evidence-based interventions early enough (Helt et al., 2008; Lovaas, 1987; McEachin, Smith, Lovaas, 1993; Rogers & Vismara, 2008). For these children and their lucky families, ABA clearly “worked.”
But we would like to suggest that ABA can “work” in other ways as well. Many, who were inspired to start down the ABA path by Maurice’s book, realize at a certain point that children are not going to lose their diagnoses and that they are not going to the mainstream.
Nonetheless, ABA has “worked” for them. ABA worked to teach them skills, to teach them independence, to teach them to speak, to use the bathroom or sleep through the night, to gain the skills they will need to hold jobs as adults. We need to expand our understanding of what “works” means, and we parents need to speak more persuasively of the different behavioral intervention has made in our children’s lives.