Here at Applied Behavioral Strategies, our mission is to improve the quality of life through effective intervention. One way we hope to do that is by reviewing research articles for our readers. Today’s article is titled, “Evolution of Research on Interventions for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Implications for Behavior Analysts”. Dr. Tristram Smith (Tris) authored the article and he recently presented the paper at the Annual Conference of the Association for Behavior Analysts in Seattle.
This article is somewhat different from the other articles we have reviewed. In the past, we have reviewed research studies where authors gather data, analyze the data, and present the results. This article is a summary of the autism research that is ongoing today.
Over the past half-century, hundreds of papers have been published on the effectiveness of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Those interventions have been used to teach communication skills, play skills, self-help and those interventions have successfully addressed challenging behaviors such as self-injurious behaviors and tantrums.
Today, scientists in fields other than Behavior Analysis are conducting studies related to autism. The Combating Autism Act of 2006 and reauthorized again in 2011 was a declaration of the war on autism. This act resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars for research on autism with a large percentage of it focused on intervention efforts. Scientists can now apply for specific autism research money through Autism Speaks, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Institute for Education Sciences, the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and the Department of Defense.
Priorities for this research focused on randomized clinical trials (RCTs) where participants are randomly assigned to treatments in order to determine which treatment is more effective. This means that some participants will be assigned to the “no treatment” or the waiting list control group. (I don’t know about you, but if my child had autism, I would not wait one minute to begin treatment.)
Types of Funded Studies
A number of studies have been funded. For example, two studies on psychotropic medication have been completed. Those studies resulted in the approval of the use of abilify and resperidone for treatment of children on the spectrum.
Several studies on ABA packaged interventions have been funded. However, the treatment is brief and often implemented by non-behavior analysts.
Studies on clinical behavior therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) have also resulted. Researchers examined social skills interventions, anxiety reduction strategies, and interventions for individuals with high functioning autism.
Implications for Behavior Analysis
Dr. Smith notably discusses the relevance of this to behavior analysts. Essentially, the money is available for research. If behavior analysts do not seek out the funding, other scientists will. He goes on to list areas of work where behavior analysts should focus.
Framework for Autism Research
- Dr. Smith encourages researchers to conduct careful tests of individual intervention packages before moving on to RCT research.
- Dr. Smith notes that some areas of ABA are ripe for RCT research, specifically comprehensive ABA interventions for school age children, youth, and adults.
- Dr. Smith suggests that we refine the defining features of autism through behavior research.
- Behavior analysts have long been successful in reducing stereotyped behaviors. This should be studied using RCT.
- Behavior analysts need to study intervention packages for behavioral feeding therapy.
- Dr. Smith encourages behavior analysts to develop thorough treatment manuals so that procedures may be replicated successfully.
In summary, we have a duty to ensure that research in autism interventions continues. If we want to continue demonstrating that ABA is effective, we must seek out this funding, design studies to demonstrate effective techniques, and disseminate our work so that others can implement successfully.
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