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Autism Main Page

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Models and Classroom Instruction
    -Guidelines and      Considerations...
    -Intervention Models
    -Summary Table

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Addressing the Challenges of Autism: Research Findings and Promising Practices

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Models and Classroom Instruction: Intervention Models:

Intensive Behavioral Treatment
Effective Method
Program Method
          Research on Efficacy

Note: In this section, we discuss a well-known behavioral intervention strategy typically referred to as the "Lovaas Method." Strictly speaking, the Lovaas Method is only one example of an Intensive Behavioral Treatment model.

  • The Lovaas Method is a well-known intervention technique implementing strategies of intensive behavioral treatment.

  • Ivar Lovaas developed this intervention strategy in the psychology department at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

  • The Lovaas Behavioral Intervention program focuses on improving social, language, and pre-academic skills, particularly for children under the age of 5 years.

  • Families generally commit to 40 hours of therapy a week for at least 2 years.

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Program Method

The teacher typically works one-on-one with a child five to seven days a week. During every teaching session, the teacher uses strategies that encompass the basic tenets of operant learning (shaping, chaining, and discrimination training). The teacher focuses specifically on the child’s behavior. Each skill is divided into small steps for the child to learn. The teacher gives an instruction, provides assistance, and gives positive reinforcement when the child provides the correct response. The teacher begins by focusing on such skills as learning to listen, watch, and imitate. As the child progresses, the teacher helps the child combine skills and use new skills in diverse settings.

Throughout the day, the teacher allows the child to have breaks between tasks to play games, eat snacks, or go outside. In addition to providing time away from structured teaching, these breaks allow the child the opportunity to generalize newly learned skills. The teacher records the child’s response during every lesson to later review the child’s progress. By ignoring aggression and encouraging socially acceptable behaviors, the teacher helps the child develop more socially acceptable behavior.

The teacher explains things clearly so that the child will better understand the environment. The Lovaas method assumes that children with autism frequently throw tantrums when they are confused or when they are frustrated with their inability to communicate. In order to eliminate inappropriate behaviors, the teacher reinforces socially appropriate behaviors and prompts children to respond correctly while communicating with others. The teacher never reinforces problem behavior. By redirecting a child, the teacher encourages the student to focus on the given task.

Research on the Efficacy of Intensive Behavioral Treatment

  • This method works well with children who are younger than 5 years old.

  • Results show that children can make significant gains in IQ and in communication skills. According to Lovaas, some children have achieved normal levels of intellectual and educational functioning.

  • Most children continue to have trouble in areas such as social interaction. This is partially due to the one-on-one nature of therapist to child interaction during behavioral therapy.

  • The Lovaas method encourages parent participation in the education of children. After observing teaching sessions, parents have the opportunity to use the same teaching strategies at home.

  • Lovaas (1987) found that behavioral therapy produced significant gains in 19 children with autism, as compared with the 19 children in a control group. Although 47% of the children who received behavioral therapy achieved normal intellectual and education functioning by first grade, only 2% of the control group made significant gains. Forty percent (40%) of the children who received behavioral therapy were mildly retarded and only 10% were profoundly retarded. In contrast, 45% of the control group were mildly retarded and 53% were severely retarded.

  • McEachin, Smith, and Lovaas (1993), in a follow-up study to Lovaas (1987), found that behavioral therapy produced long-lasting and significant gains in the 19 children with autism, as compared with the 19 children in a control group. At a mean age of 11.5, the children in the treatment group scored higher on IQ tests and were placed less restrictively into school classrooms than the children in the control group. Eight of the 19 children in the treatment condition achieved scores typical of average children on intelligence tests and adaptive behavior evaluations. Follow-up studies showed that the treatment group preserved its gains over time. Children who had achieved the most success by first grade had the best outcomes in follow-up studies.

  • Sallows and Graupner (1999) demonstrated that behavioral treatment could be implemented outside of a university setting. Eight of the 24 children given behavioral treatment achieved IQs in the average range after one year of treatment. These children also showed improvements in adaptive skills and language skills, as compared with 43 students from the local public school in the control group.

  • Eikeseth (1999) found that the 12 children given behavioral treatment scored higher on global IQ, language, and communication skills, as compared with the 10 children in a control group. At follow-up, 8 of the 12 children who received behavioral treatment scored within the normal range of intellectual functioning.

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