Description: The Lovaas model of applied behavior analysis was developed in the psychology department of UCLA under the direction of Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas and used in the UCLA Young Autism Project. It is intended to provide intensive early intervention for young children with autism (under four years old when treatment starts). As originally formulated by Lovaas (1987), children receive 40 hours per week of one-to-one ABA instruction for 2-3 years. During the first year, the primary instructional method during this time is individual discrete trial training (see entry) in the child’s home. In the second year, children spend increasing amounts of time having supervised playdates with typically developing peers (to provide opportunities for peer tutoring and increase social skills), enter general education preschools (to facilitate adjustment to school), and participate in incidental teaching in addition to discrete trial training. During the third and final year, the focus is on gradually reducing individual instruction and increasing inclusion into classroom settings (either in general education if the children can function effectively in that setting, or in special education if the children continue to require specialized support services).
Research Summary: A number of scientific studies indicate that the UCLA treatment may produce large gains in development and reductions in the need for special services. It may enable some (though not all) children with autism to achieve levels of functioning that are typical of other children their age in many respects. However, because studies have involved small numbers of participants and have had other design limitations, there is a need for large studies of this intervention with strong experimental designs.
Recommendations: Overall, the UCLA treatment is a highly promising intervention with considerable scientific support, but there continues to be a need for additional research. Because of the promise of this approach, professionals and families may wish to obtain additional information about it; resources are listed in the references below.
Selected scientific studies
Cohen, H., Amerine-Dickens, M., & Smith, T. (2006). Early intensive behavioral treatment: Replication of the UCLA Model in a community setting. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 27, S145-S155.
Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 3-9.
McEachin, J. J., Smith, T., & Lovaas, O. I. (1993). Long-term outcome for children with autism who received early intensive behavioral treatment. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 97, 359-372.
Sallows, G., & Graupner, T. (2005). Intensive behavioral treatment for autism: Four-year outcome and predictors. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 110, 417-436.
Smith, T., Groen, A., & Wynn, J. W. (2000). Randomized trial of intensive early intervention for children with pervasive developmental disorder. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 104, 269-285.
Systematic reviews of scientific studies:
Reichow, B., & Wolery, M. (2009). Comprehensive synthesis of early intervention behavioral interventions for young children with autism based on the UCLA Young Autism Project model. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 23-41.
Rogers, S. J., & Vismara, L. A. (2008). Evidence-based comprehensive treatments for early autism. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 37, 8-38.
What Works Clearinghouse (2010, August). Lovaas model of applied behavior analysis. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/EvidenceSnapshot/295.
For additional information:
Lovaas, O. I. (2003). Teaching individuals with developmental delays: Basic intervention techniques. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
Comments on Spreckley and Boyd (2009). Efficacy of applied behavioral intervention in preschool children with autism for improving cognitive, language, and adaptive behavior: A systematic review and meta-analysis.