Dear Mr. Kaufman:
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) is committed to science as the most objective, time-tested and reliable approach to discerning between safe, effective autism treatments, and those that are harmful and/or ineffective. Our mission is to share accurate, scientifically sound information about autism and treatments for autism because we believe individuals with autism and their families deserve nothing less.
We are writing to you regarding your video series posted on the Internet on the topic of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) versus the Son-Rise Program® and our concern about your use of strategic marketing aimed at a vulnerable population of family members. Specifically, the video series disseminates false information about autism treatment to the disservice of parents who most need accurate information. It appears that both you and your organization have used similar tactics in the United Kingdom, whose government (i.e., Advertising Standards Authority) reprimanded the Option Institute, of which your program is a division, for false advertising.(1)
Your video series appears to be a calculated tactic, designed to divert potential participants from the complete lack of evidence supporting the Son-Rise Program. We note that Research Autism, an organization in the United Kingdom, commented, “Because of the lack of scientific evidence in the Son-Rise Program, we are currently unable to recommend its use” (2). A similar statement was echoed by Autism Speaks TM, an organization in the United States, who stated, “There is no empirical support for this method”. (3)
In the video, you reference an unpublished paper (4) in which you cite over 150 articles, yet fail to acknowledge that not a single one is a direct, objective evaluation of your methods. It is important to note that the Son-Rise Program is not without peer-reviewed articles. A longitudinal survey that inquired about the benefits and drawbacks for families who implemented the Son-Rise Program found that approximately 40% reported drawbacks only, which was double the percentage of caregivers who reported benefits only.(5) This longitudinal study was not summarized or cited in your unpublished paper despite being published before your paper was written.
The video series grossly mischaracterizes Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA is not synonymous with discrete trial instruction or early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI), but is a science with a wide array of research-based treatment procedures that have improved the lives of many individuals ”not just children with autism” across a variety of settings. With respect to autism services, treatments based on the principles of ABA have been endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General,(6) National Institutes of Health,(7) the National Research Council,(8) the National Standards Report, (9) published by the National Autism Center, and others. (10)
Your description of the video series as “funny, but sweet” presents as an attempt to discount hundreds of peer-reviewed research articles that support the effectiveness of ABA to address the needs of children with autism. In fact, you cite a number of these studies in your unpublished paper. Moreover, in contrast to your implication that early intensive behavioral intervention is ineffective, a number of published studies have documented otherwise.(11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21) While we recognize that studies of early intensive behavioral intervention have design limitations and have involved small numbers of participants, collectively these empirical studies show that EIBI produces large gains in development and, over time, a reduction in specialized services.
It is important for parents and caregivers to access accurate information regarding autism treatments in order that they may make wise decisions for their children. Your video series misrepresents the current state of evidence and, in our opinion, may be considered false advertising. Your mode of dissemination and miscommunication borders on pseudoscientific practice as described below:
“One important way to distinguish charlatans and practitioners of pseudoscience from legitimate scientists is that the former often bypass the normal channels of scientific publication and instead go straight to the media with their “findings.” One ironclad criterion that will always work for the public when presented with scientific claims of uncertain validity is the question, Have the findings been published in a recognized scientific journal that uses some type of peer review procedure? The answer to this question will almost always separate pseudoscientific claims from the real thing.” (22)
With all due respect, this statement describes well the manner in which your organization has disseminated information. We recognize that your organization, as a for-profit business, needs to market itself, but we insist this must not be at the cost of children and their vulnerable families. We encourage you to remove the video series from the Internet and, instead, focus your efforts on contributing to science by evaluating the effectiveness of intervention strategies used by the Son-Rise Program and publishing your findings in scientific, peer-reviewed journals. This is long overdue as the methods promulgated by your center have been touted for almost 30 years.
For more information, please visit https://asatonline.org.
Association for Science in Autism Treatment
1 Leitch, L. (2010, March 3). UK advertising standards authority rules on options institute. Left
Brain/Right Brain. Retrieved from http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2010/03/uk-advertisingstandards-
2 Author Unknown. Son-Rise Program and autism. Research Autism. Retrieved from
3 Author Unknown. The Son-Rise Program. Autism SpeaksTM.
4 Author Unknown. Empirical Research Supporting the Son-Rise Program. Autism
5 Williams, K. R., & Wishart, J. G. (2003). The Son-Rise Program intervention for autism: An
investigation into family experiences. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 47, 291-299.
6 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1999). Mental health: A report of the
surgeon general. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services,
National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health.
7 Strock, M. (2004). Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). NIH
Publication No. NIH-04-5511. National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of
Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, 40 pp.
8 National Research Council (2001). Educating children with autism. Committee on
Educational Interventions for Children with Autism, Division of Behavioral and Social
Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
9 National Autism Center (2009). National Standards Report. Randolph, MA: National Autism
10 New York State Department of Health (1999). Clinical practice guideline: Report of the
recommendations. Autism/pervasive developmental disorders, assessment and intervention for
young children (age 0-3 years). Albany, NY: NYS Early Intervention Program.
11 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, 5145-5155.
12 Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S. (2002). Intensive behavioral treatment at
school for 4- to 7-year-old children with autism: A 1-year comparison controlled study.
Behavior Modification, 26, 49-68.
13 Eikeseth, S., Smith, T., Jahr, E., & Eldevik, S. (2007). Outcome for children with autism who
began intensive behavioral treatment between ages 4 and 7: A comparison controlled study.
Behavior Modification, 31, 264-278.
14 Howard, J. S., Sparkman, C. R., Cohen, H. G., Green, G., & Stanislaw, H. (2005). A
comparison of intensive behavior analytic and eclectic treatments for young children with
autism. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26, 359-393.
15 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.
16 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.
17 Reed, P., Osborne, L. A., & Corness, M. (2007). The real-world effectiveness of early
teaching interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder. Exceptional Children, 73,
18 Remington, B., Hastings, R. P., Kovshoff, H., Degli Espinosa, F., Jahr, E., Brown, T., et al.
(2007). Early intensive behavioral intervention: Outcomes for children with autism and their
parents after two years. American Journal of Mental Retardation, 112, 418-438.
19 Sallows, G. O., & Graupner, T. D. (2005). Intensive behavioral treatment for children with
autism: Four-year outcome and predictors. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 110,
20 Smith, T., Groen, A. D., & Wynn, J. W. (2000). Randomized trial of intensive early
intervention for children with pervasive developmental disorder. American Journal on Mental
Retardation, 105, 269-285.
21 Zachor, D. A., Ben-Itzchak, E., Rabinovich, A. L., & Lahat, E. (2007). Change in autism
core symptoms with intervention. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 1, 304-317.
22 Stanovich, K. E. (2007). How to think straight about psychology (8th edition). New York:
Allyn & Bacon.
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