Real-World Effectiveness of Early Teaching Interventions for Children with Autism
Reed, P., Osborne, L. A., & Corness (2007). Brief report: Relative effectiveness of different home-based behavioral approaches to early teaching intervention. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1815-1821.
Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, M.A.
Why research this topic?
Home-based programs are an integral component of effectively treating children with autism. This study looked at the effectiveness of different kinds of applied behavior analytic (ABA) home-based programs: (1) the UCLA model developed by Ivar Lovaas, emphasizing structured teaching approaches such as discrete trial training to teach a wide range of skills, (2) Verbal Behavior, which focuses on developing communication skills that serve a variety of different functions such as requesting or labeling objects, and (3) Complete Application of Behavior Analysis to Schools (CABAS), which is designed to apply ABA principles to teach instructors to work effectively with children and to develop individualized curricula for the children.
What did the researcher do?
This current study compared the effectiveness of Lovaas, VB, and CABAS in high-intensity vs. low-intensity treatment programs over a period of about eight months. High-intensity treatment consisted of 20 to 40 hours per week of one-on-one instruction while low-intensity treatment consisted of 10 to 20 hours per week.
Participants were 27 children with autism between 2 and 4 years old. Treatment was implemented at home. Sessions were 2 to 3 hours and students completed about 8-14 tasks per session. Each task took about 5 to 10 minutes and was repeated until a performance criterion was met. The authors evaluated children's change from before to after intervention in several areas: autism severity assessed by the Gilliam Autism Rating Scale, intellectual functioning estimated from the Psycho-educational Profile-Revised, educational functioning measured with the British Abilities Scale (BAS) and day-to-day functioning based on the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale.
What did the researcher find?
In this study, the high-intensity intervention group demonstrated greater reductions in autism severity and larger gains in intellectual and educational functioning than did the low-intensity group. However, neither group made noticeable gains in adaptive behavior functioning.
In addition, the Lovaas and CABAS groups made larger gains than VB in intellectual functioning. All three interventions displayed similar modest gains in educational achievement, but no group demonstrated significant gains in adaptive functioning.
What are the strengths and limitations of the study? What do the results mean?
Limitations of the study are small group sizes and short duration of treatment. In addition, a more detailed analysis of the specific components of the interventions would be helpful. However, the study does support previous findings that higher amounts of treatment hours produce better results.