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Department of Education holds ‘lingering animosity’ to ABA Autism Education

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To the parents of autistic children present in the Dail last night, the defeat of a Fine Gael motion on the funding of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) education for autistic children was as predictable as it was devastating. Few government TDs bothered to listen to debate and but the necessary numbers appeared when it was time for the government to re-affirm its commitment to denying children access to a therapy and education that qualified professionals had decided they needed. However one government TD grabbed a few headlines today largely because her comments in the Dail contrasted sharply with the way in which she voted on the Fine Gael motion.

Mary O’Rourke may have voted against the Fine Gael private member’s bill, but she spoke out against the department for education for its thoroughly odd attitude to ABA education. O’Rourke stated that ‘it is my feeling that there is a lingering animosity and a sort of a blockage at some level within the Department of Education against the full blooded provision of ABA’. These comments are particularly telling given that the government backbencher used to to be the Minister of Education and that the comments were delivered shortly after the Department of Education forced a Cork based ABA school to discontinue the provision of education through a comprehensive ABA approach.

One problem that the parents of autistic children have continually spoken about is the waiting list that exists for receiving a diagnosis from a department approved expert. While there are many experts in the country capable of making a diagnosis, the government only recognises the judgments of the few it pays. The judgment of an independent psychologist is ignored by the department and cannot be used in attempts to receive funding for urgently needed treatment or education.

In his judgment on the O’Cuanachain case, Justice Michael Peart also alluded to an existing perception that the department of education had a hostile attitude toward ABA education. When commenting on the attempts of a group of parents of autistic children to acquire funding for an ABA education project he stated:

The Court is left to wonder why there was such coyness about saying to the Department exactly what was being proposed, and to ask itself, only rhetorically of course, could it be that St. Catherine’s and those involved there in this project knew that a view was developing in the Department, or had been formed maybe, that the funding of exclusively ABA centres, such as had occurred in the past (on a pilot basis only according to them), might no longer be sanctioned, and that in making its proposal for funding it was thought advisable to make no mention whatsoever of ABA?

Indeed, the O’Cuanachain judgement offers us an interesting insight into the politics surrounding ABA provision in Ireland. Each side presented their experts and both sides agreed that ABA was useful for providing education to autistic children. However, the government’s experts claimed that it was only one of a number of techniques that should be used, while the defendants argued that the model proposed by the government was inadequate and that what the government was that the ABA provided under government models was insufficient and provided by those unqualified to provide it. The judge referred to the fact that there appeared to be a legitimate difference of opinion among experts, however it is important to note that the experts called by the plaintiff and the defendant had different areas of expertise. The ‘experts’ called by the government lacked expertise on the subject of ABA. One, Ms. Marie-Louise Hughes, admitted that he ABA experts called to give evidence regarding ABA on behalf of the plaintiff were more qualified than she is to speak about the content of ABA and how it is actually delivered. Another factor that all agreed upon was that there was little if any evidence to support the model of education endorsed by the department.

One has to wonder what the department of education is thinking. If all experts agree that ABA has been proven usefully in the empirical research and that it should be available to education providers when educating autistic children, then surely those in the best position to advise on the way ABA should be implemented would be ABA experts? As it stands, the ABA experts are uniformly of the opinion that what the government provides under the eclectic model is not ABA in any sense of the word. What the department of education is doing is the equivalent of ignoring the advice of heart surgeons on heart surgery and instead taking advice from GPs and dentists. Stupidity.

So what on earth could cause such stupid decisions to be taken? If you ask the parents of autistic children, they’ll usually refer to money. Some estimate that proper ABA provision costs up to 13,000 euro more per child per year. Given that the department of education once argued in court that special needs children were ineducable, it’s not hard to imagine that they’d try to wriggle their way out of providing autistic children with the education they need simply because it appeared expensive in the short term.

Clearly, there are questions to be asked of the Department of Education, but there was no way those questions were going to be answered last night. Minister for Education Mary Hanafin wasn’t even there for the vote having decided that perhaps it was a good time to leave the country. The parents of autistic children present in the Dail last night probably hope that she never comes back.

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34 Responses to “Department of Education holds ‘lingering animosity’ to ABA Autism Education”

  1. # Comment by Mary Feb 14th, 2008 19:02

    Dear Friend

    I am Appalled by what is Happening at the moment with the department of Education I cannot understand what Mary Hanafin is about right now. I have great faith in Mary O’Rourke who will do all she can to help Minister Hanafin to embrace ABA therapy for all those autistic children who will benefit from it. “Trust that everything will work out beautiful”

  2. # Comment by Dan Sullivan Feb 15th, 2008 15:02

    Mary O’Rourke will do everything except actually the one thing that she can do that only 165 others can do and that is to put her vote where her mouth is. What is the point of electing people who will go into the Dail, say they support something then vote against it?

  3. # Comment by Niall Feb 15th, 2008 18:02

    While Mary’s actions are pretty stupid, I’ve got a tiny, strange speck of respect for her for havving explained her position. Listening to Newstalk on the morning after the vote, it emerged that several other anonymous TDs said the same thing to the parents present for the vote.

    Did the government even ever respond to the calls for a free vote?

  4. # Comment by martina Feb 16th, 2008 20:02

    It was only An Taoiseach who could have removed the whip and allowed a free vote in the Dail, his silence on the issue is complicit with Minister Hanafin and her officials attempts to eradicate ABA schooling in Ireland. the reality of party politics is that no FF deputy could vote in favour of the motion without An Taoiseachs removal of the whip. Bertie has failed to respond to a call for a freevote and explain his reasoning for not doing so, I guess children with autism are high up on his agenda.
    Deputy O Rourke spoke from the heart I believe and spoke with honesty and conviction, characteristics often absent from dail debates.This is not a party political issue and it can only be hoped that the dept officials are forced to do a u-turn on the issue of ABA schooling and provide these basic services for the children who require it.

  5. # Comment by Dan Sullivan Feb 17th, 2008 12:02

    The whip is an internal mechanism the only sanction for breaking it would come from the parties themselves. To suggest that the whip has something to do with the office of An Taoiseach is completely incorrect. It is interesting that Bev broke the whip to cause she couldn’t vote to condemn her father (for which she was forgiven) but Mary O’Rourke couldn’t vote for something purely because it was FG motion (that is what she said on the radio the following morning.)

  6. # Comment by Niall Feb 17th, 2008 22:02

    Dan, to be fair to O’Rourke, the impression that she gave was that there wasn’t any point in breaking the whip (should that be breaking from the whip?) and suffering from the consequences because even after her rebellion the motion would still have failed. I seem to remember saying “What would have been the point?” quite a lot.

    Of course, if every Fianna Fail TD who used that excuse had actually rebelled, then Irish autistic children would be much better off. I believe that Mary O’Rourke has put a lot of effort into promoting the interests of Irish autistic children and I think that her motivations are as pure as a politician’s can be, but I can’t help but feel that she missed an opportunity to do make an impact. People have tried to gently persuade the department of education to change its attitude and it hasn’t worked. People have lobbied Mary Hanafin to no avail. The department has decided to do away with ABA education in Ireland in the quietest way possible. If Mary O’Rourke, or anybody else for that matter, wants to stop that, then they need to make some headlines.

  7. # Comment by Sharon Feb 18th, 2008 11:02

    Why should the state fund ABA schools? The state should fund the education of autistic children properly, with enough resources, teachers and speech and occupational therapists. ABA is just one of many methods for teaching autistic children. For some reason, the ABA companies have recently started to focus on Ireland as an untapped market and are heavily promoting their own brand as if it is the one and only way, when it’s not. The money needed to pay all these behavioralists could be better spent helping more children get a better education.

    The benefits of and evidence for ABA as a teaching method for autistic children, has been totally over-stated. The media reports misinformation like, “At least one in two children with autism reaps results from ABA and many go onto mainstream school.” That is not true.

    You focus on the fact that the governments advisers are not as qualified as the behavioralists to speak about ABA and how it is carried out. That is irrelevant. They are just as able to see that there are no good published studies showing increased benefits of ABA over other focused teaching methods for autistic children.

    Who are these experts who agree that ABA is useful and should be provided? Why should ABA providers advise on this when it’s clear they have a vested interest? The government model is not ABA…fine, autistic children do not need behaviourism to learn. In fact, recent research on autistic learning shows that autistic children learn best implicitly, from their environments and from trying and doing for themselves. This the opposite of the ABA approach, which is based on the outdated theory that changing the outward behaviour of a person, via rewards and punishments, changes the internal psychology of the child. See this 1965 Life article, for details of how ABA was first applied to autistic children. While the Irish ABA schools do not use the barbaric methods shown in that article, the often quoted study whereby half of a set of autistic children who had intensive ABA before age 4, did use the treatment shown.

    The government will try to wriggle out of doing the right thing, and saying that “special needs children are ineducable” is revolting and inexcusable. Parents, autistic people and supporters would be much better served forcing the government to honour its responsibilities to all autistic children with a good education, faster diagnosis, better support and information, better living and working support structures for adult autistics.

    Parents who have investigated ABA and found it sorely lacking, deserve to be heard too.

  8. # Comment by Sharon Feb 18th, 2008 12:02

    Sorry, in my previous comment I left a sentence unfinished.

    At the end of the 4th paragraph, I should have written;
    While the Irish ABA schools do not use the barbaric methods shown in that article, the often quoted study whereby half of a set of autistic children who had intensive ABA for 2 years before age 4 and were then able to go to mainstream school, did use the treatment shown.

  9. # Comment by coc Feb 19th, 2008 11:02

    recent research on autistic learning shows that autistic children learn best implicitly
    Really? Well, let’s have it so. Why all the mystery? You sound like Hanafin, with her mystery experts and her mystery evidence. What I can’t understand is why you presume to know the needs of every other child with autism? If your child has been assessed as not needing ABA, or if you’ve just decided against it, well good for you. What gives you the right to overrule the psychological assessments and the resulting recommendations of children you’ve never met?
    Mr Doherty draws attention to the MADSEC report which gives a good overview of the research supporting ABA, ayt least up until its publication at the turn of the century. Needless to say it doesn’t refer to more recent studies from Eikeseth in Norway, Remington in England or Sallows in the US, but since the evidence for ABA has only been increasing in the last 8 years, that makes no difference to MADSECs conclusions.
    Your attempt to equate ABA==aversives is ridiculous. Anyone educated in Ireland before the mid 70′s knows aversives were commonly used in all educational settings at the time. You can’t dismiss ABA based on the use of aversive any more than you can dismiss National School teachers based on the strap.

  10. # Comment by Niall Feb 19th, 2008 17:02

    “For some reason, the ABA companies have recently started to focus on Ireland as an untapped market and are heavily promoting their own brand as if it is the one and only way, when it’s not.”

    Sharon there are times when your comments sound a little bit like a stereotypical conspiracy theorists, the above being an example, and similarly your contention that evidence provided by ABA is unreliable because such people have a “vested interest”. In Ireland, ABA is provided by schools set up by charities. These charities are formed by the parents of autistic children. The money that people make in these schools is nothing to write home about.

    “They are just as able to see that there are no good published studies showing increased benefits of ABA over other focused teaching methods for autistic children.”

    I’m sorry but this comment is nothing short of ridiculous. There are many studies that report improvements in children’s behaviour following the use of ABA therapy. Due to the nature of research in applied settings, it is usually possible to find flaws in the designs of most studies, however if you conduct a meta-review of all available research the trend is unmistakeable.

    Like the rest of us, all autistic children would benefit from ABA (whether this should take place in an ABA school is another matter). However, that is not what the parents of the autistic children are asking for. All they are asking for is that when a recommendation is made by a person who is recognised by a relevant professional body, then that recommendation should be followed. If the parents of a child are told by an educational psychologist that their child need x hours ABA in order to maximise their potential then that child should get the education that they need.

    As for this notion that ABA is only one of many techniques that can be used, well to say so is to claim that ABA is a technique. It is not. It is an approach that utilises many different techniques and through which things like occupational therapy, speech therapy, PECS and the like can be delivered. For more on that, see my most recent post on my own blog.

  11. # Comment by Sharon Feb 19th, 2008 20:02

    Hello coc. Where am I presuming to know the needs of all autistic children? I would like to know who carries out the psychological assessments of all these children deemed as needing ABA and only ABA. Are they ordinary educational psychologists? Am I really to believe that all the educational psychologists in Ireland back ABA as the only way for a proportion of autistic children to learn?

    The importance of implicit learning in autism is seen here and is described in depth here (pdf link to as yet unpublished book chapter);
    “Learning in autism is characterized both by spontaneous—sometimes exceptional—mastering of complex material and an apparent resistance to learning in conventional ways. Learning that appears to be implicit seems to be important in autism, but autistics’ implicit learning may not map directly onto non-autistics’ implicit learning or be governed by the same constraints. An understanding of autistic learning, of how and why autistics learn well and learn poorly, may therefore require a non-normocentric approach, and an investigation of the possibility that autistic and non-autistic cognition may be complementary in learning and advancing different aspects of knowledge.”

    You wrote “Your attempt to equate ABA==aversives is ridiculous.”
    I didn’t. I explained how ABA first was performed, and said that the often quoted figure of 50% recovery of pre-school children having intensive ABA, comes from a badly designed study which did employ aversives.

  12. # Comment by Sharon Feb 19th, 2008 20:02

    Hello Niall.

    Sorry for sounding like a conspiracy theorist. I’m not, I don’t think there’s any conspiracy. I just think loads of people are trying to do the best thing for autistic children, but have been mislead on the reality of ABA, which is new to Ireland, and which has very quickly become the therapy of choice as far as media reports go.

    In your post you said,”surely those in the best position to advise on the way ABA should be implemented would be ABA experts?”
    I pointed out that these people have a vested interest in ensuring that as many children as possible use their form of autism education or they will have to look for jobs. I know these are good, caring people, and that they are not well paid. I have a friend who used to be an ABA therapist. But I think the claims of ABA need to be assessed by an independent body.

    I said “there are no good published studies showing increased benefits of ABA over other focused teaching methods for autistic children.” and you replied, “I’m sorry but this comment is nothing short of ridiculous. There are many studies that report improvements in children’s behaviour following the use of ABA therapy. Due to the nature of research in applied settings, it is usually possible to find flaws in the designs of most studies, however if you conduct a meta-review of all available research the trend is unmistakeable.”

    Here is the analysis of ABA on the site Quackwatch on autism, from which the following quotations are taken.

    To summarise, Lovaas (1987) reported dramatic results, but other researchers noted that the outcomes were measured via school placement and IQ only, which could have resulted from increased compliance with testing, and schools may have become more accommodating of the autistic children rather than the children making great gains. Also the children in the study were relatively high functioning to begin with. I can attest to this; back when I was investigating ABA for my son, I got in touch with the London ABA researchers, LEAP (one of the groups attempting to replicate the Lovaas results), and they were very strict about what functioning and intake IQ levels of autistic child they enroll in their research programme, research that the parents paid for I might add.

    Most important, in the Lovaas study, subjects were not randomly assigned to the experimental and control groups. The assignment of subjects could have led to the outcomes reported. Also, the treatment included the use of harsh aversives.

    Others subsequently raised similar criticisms. Gresham and MacMillan (1997, 1998) expanded on the threats to both internal and external validity raised by Schopler et al. (1989) and called for “healthy skepticism” in evaluating the claims of the YAP studies. Mesibov (1993) expressed concerns about pretreatment differences between the experimental and control groups, and about the many domains of functioning in which deficits commonly associated with autism (e.g., social interactions and conceptual abilities) that were not assessed. Mundy (1993) raised similar concerns, noting that many high-functioning autistic individuals achieve IQ levels in the normal range, thereby raising questions about the use of IQ scores to measure “recovery” from autism.

    These researchers all thought of ABA as meriting further investigation, but subsequent studies have all been methodologically even weaker than the original Lovaas study and their results nothing like as dramatic as his.

    Taken together, the literature on ABA programs for autism clearly suggest that such interventions are promising. Methodological weaknesses of the existing studies, however, severely limit the conclusions that can be drawn about their efficacy. Of particular note is the fact that no study to date has utilized a true experimental design, in which subjects were randomly assigned to treatment conditions. This fact limits the inferences that can be drawn about the effects of the programs studied. Moreover, these concerns are compounded by pretreatment differences between experimental and control conditions in each of the studies reviewed. Other methodological concerns include questions about the representativeness of the samples of autistic children, unknown fidelity to treatment procedures, limited outcome data for most studies, and problems inherent in relying on IQ scores and school placement as primary measures of autistic symptoms and functioning.

    Nevertheless, these caveats have not tempered the enthusiasm of some proponents of ABA programs.

    Mainly, my objection to the media articles I have read recently, is the hyping of the evidence for ABA. There are case studies showing children who have had ABA therapy make improvements, though it’s hard to know from how these are carried out, whether it was the ABA that caused these gains. There are also studies showing other methods matching the gains of ABA, with less cost to the family in terms of expense and family upheaval. I’ve linked to these on my blog. I am also very annoyed at the disablist language used to describe autistic people, and the common use of the false alternative fallacy “ABA versus institutionalisation”.

    I do want to see all autistic children get assess to a great education, with plenty of resources and staff.

  13. # Comment by Niall Feb 20th, 2008 00:02

    Hi Sharon, it’s late and I don’t have the time to address all of your points, but there are a couple of things I’d like to say.

    1. An educational psychologist will never lack for work. They get paid the same whether they recommend ABA or anything else. These people are not involved in the application of ABA interventions. If people stopped using ABA, they would not be out of jobs.

    2. The claims of ABA, or rather claims made by ABA theorists have been assessed by independent bodies. For instance, the US Surgeon General delivered a favourable report. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think you’d have no problem admitting that ABA can have beneficial effects, rather if I understand you correctly, your position is that there is no conclusive evidence that proves ABA is more effective than other individualised intensive education programs.

    3. I’m not familiar with Quackwatch, but if I have a choice between the US Surgeon General and Quackwatch, I’ll not go with Quackwatch.

    4. The problems may have existed within the Lovaas design have largely been addressed by later research. For instance, you criticise the study for using IQ score and school placement, however other studies have used language tests, the Uniform Performance Assessment System and other measures. You complain that assignment in the Lovaas study was not random. This is true. However, in an applied setting group assignment is rarely practical or indeed ethical under most circumstances. However even so, if you look at the UC-San Francisco study which reported significant improvements as a result of ABA, you’ll find that the experimenters were not involved in the assignment of individuals to experimental groups in any way. Finally, forget about aversives. There have been many studies that did not use aversives but that found positive results for ABA.

    Like I said earlier, the nature of research in the applied setting is that there will be flaws in the experimental design. However, there are few universal flaws in the body of research that ABA advocates use to make their points.

    5. Whatever the flaws that exist in the experimental designs of the studies whose results show significant positive outcomes following ABA interventions, the fact remains that no other treatments can offer a comparable body of evidence to support its claims. While support for all autism treatments remains feeble in many respects, ABA is the most strongly supported of all of the treatments out there.

  14. # Comment by Sharon Feb 20th, 2008 09:02

    1. An educational psychologist will never lack for work. They get paid the same whether they recommend ABA or anything else. These people are not involved in the application of ABA interventions. If people stopped using ABA, they would not be out of jobs.

    I never said the educational psychologists would be out of work, but that the behaviorists might be. The ABA providers, especially those who have Board Certification in behavioralism, do have a vested interest in increasing the number of ABA schools to ensure their state funding.

    2. The claims of ABA, or rather claims made by ABA theorists have been assessed by independent bodies. For instance, the US Surgeon General delivered a favourable report. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I think you’d have no problem admitting that ABA can have beneficial effects, rather if I understand you correctly, your position is that there is no conclusive evidence that proves ABA is more effective than other individualised intensive education programs.

    Yes, that’s more or less my position. But I was referring to your earlier statement;

    surely those in the best position to advise on the way ABA should be implemented would be ABA experts? As it stands, the ABA experts are uniformly of the opinion that what the government provides under the eclectic model is not ABA in any sense of the word. What the department of education is doing is the equivalent of ignoring the advice of heart surgeons on heart surgery and instead taking advice from GPs and dentists. Stupidity.

    ABA has been assessed, and found wanting, by independent groups, but you did say that you thought the people who should advice the government on the provision of ABA to Irish children, should be the very people whose livelihood depends on this.

    Here’s what the US Surgeon General Report says about ABA;

    Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior. A well-designed study of a psychosocial intervention was carried out by Lovaas and colleagues (Lovaas, 1987; McEachin et al., 1993). Nineteen children with autism were treated intensively with behavior therapy for 2 years and compared with two control groups. Followup of the experimental group in first grade, in late childhood, and in adolescence found that nearly half the experimental group but almost none of the children in the matched control group were able to participate in regular schooling. Up to this point, a number of other research groups have provided at least a partial replication of the Lovaas model (see Rogers, 1998).

    Their favourable report is once again quoting the old Lovaas study! It all hinges on this one 1987, never since replicated, aversive using, non-randomised trial. I didn’t quote Quackwatch to argue from authority, but because the site provided a good critique of the scientific basis of ABA, just as this blog does.

    4. The problems may have existed within the Lovaas design have largely been addressed by later research. For instance, you criticise the study for using IQ score and school placement, however other studies have used language tests, the Uniform Performance Assessment System and other measures. You complain that assignment in the Lovaas study was not random. This is true. However, in an applied setting group assignment is rarely practical or indeed ethical under most circumstances. However even so, if you look at the UC-San Francisco study which reported significant improvements as a result of ABA, you’ll find that the experimenters were not involved in the assignment of individuals to experimental groups in any way. Finally, forget about aversives. There have been many studies that did not use aversives but that found positive results for ABA.

    I don’t think we can forget about aversives as long as all ABA promoters continue to hype the evidence and point to the Lovaas study, or sources citing it, as evidence of its effectiveness. The US Surgeon General Report and the MADSEC report mentioned above, both are based mainly on that paper.

    Like I said earlier, the nature of research in the applied setting is that there will be flaws in the experimental design. However, there are few universal flaws in the body of research that ABA advocates use to make their points.

    5. Whatever the flaws that exist in the experimental designs of the studies whose results show significant positive outcomes following ABA interventions, the fact remains that no other treatments can offer a comparable body of evidence to support its claims. While support for all autism treatments remains feeble in many respects, ABA is the most strongly supported of all of the treatments out there.

    ABA has been used on autistic people for decades. In all that time, and with all the thousands of children treated, there has been only one randomised controlled trial which didn’t have great results. The ABA promoters have had long enough to come up with absolute and conclusive evidence, despite all the difficulties you mention in trial design. It could have, and should have been done and found to be very successful before before it receives priority state funding. ABA is by far the most studied intervention for autism, all because of the interest generated by the Lovass study and it’s startling assertion that almost half of autistic children could be ‘recovered’ if treated early enough for enough hours. It has not stood up to the test. The gains made in all the subsequent studies, may just as well come from natural maturation and the benefits of dedicated instructin with a high adult to child ratio, and not from the style of teaching, ie the ABA itself.

  15. # Comment by buster Feb 21st, 2008 00:02

    Why, oh why, do we not have reasoned, objective and informative debate about what is an important issue that affects the lives of our most vulnerable?

    Recognised researchers and academics of international standing are telling Joe Bloggses like me that the research is unclear about the efficacy of any one approach to the education of children with autism but we’re being bombarded by a media campaign to convince the nation that ABA (and ABA, only) is the answer for a certain type of child with autism. Now, this stance represents a change in approach. A while back, we were told that ABA was the only approach for all autistic children. Fine. We’ve narrowed the field somewhat.

    Next, we’re told that parents are bound by the recommendations of independent psychologists who say that their children need exclusive ABA. We’re not told who these independent experts are. We’re not told where we can find them. Where are they based? Who pays their salaries? Where is the evidence for their prescription of this method exclusively, given the aforementioned pronouncements of real experts who have gone on record in stating that the evidence for this approach doesn’t hold water?

    Nobody in the media campaign-which I have followed with interest-has answered these fundamental questions. I get a sense that there are a lot of parents who have received advice from “experts” as how best to help their children and that they are doing what any parent would do: fight for the best. If I wish to sell any product well, I’ll describe it as powerful, effective, evidence-based, “science”. I’m afraid there are questions to be answered about the motives behind the present media campaign, in terms of who is being served by pushing one treatment above all others. I suspect a lot of money is being made.

  16. # Comment by Niall Feb 21st, 2008 01:02

    Hi again Sharon. Once more it’s late as I write this, so forgive me if I’m missing out on some of your points.

    “The ABA providers, especially those who have Board Certification in behavioralism, do have a vested interest in increasing the number of ABA schools to ensure their state funding.”

    Those who have board certification are few and number and do not lack for work. Even if the department closed down the existing pilot schools (something that cannot happen), such behaviourists would find no shortage of positions available to them. But honestly, it’s not an issue as far as I’m concerned. Those who have received board certification are normally people who have spent years working with autism before receiving board recognition. They don’t believe in ABA because they are accredited, they undertook their training because they believed in ABA.

    “ABA has been assessed, and found wanting, by independent groups, but you did say that you thought the people who should advice the government on the provision of ABA to Irish children, should be the very people whose livelihood depends on this.”

    Firstly, the advice being provided is generally from academics. These academics do not rely on the existence of ABA schools in order to survive. Their main employer is the university in which they live. Remember, the question is not whether ABA should be used. Everybody accepts that it should be. People only disagree on how it should be used and it is pretty obvious that if you want to know how an approach should be best utilised, you ask those who have expertise in the area.

    Second, if we adopt your logic, we would have to avoid taking advice from Dentists on matters relating to dental health because such professional have a vested interest.

    Third, which independent groups have found ABA wanting? Please note, I am not asking you whether people have found flaws in the research designs of certain experiments or if people have expressed a desire to see further research on certain matters, I am asking if you know of any independent groups who having reviewed all available research found that there was an alternative way of educating children that had stronger empirical support.

    “Their favourable report is once again quoting the old Lovaas study! It all hinges on this one 1987, never since replicated, aversive using, non-randomised trial.”

    Make no mistake, the Lovaas study was an important study in the eyes of those who advocate the use of ABA in educating autistic children. It is probably one of the single most important experiment in the history of ABA. However, I think that you miss the reason why it is important. It is not important because it is the only study supporting ABA, it is important because it was the first study in the history of modern-day ABA education provision and the research that emerged later was very much in reaction to Lovaas. Most of the concerns you’ve raised about the Lovaas study also concerned other ABA researchers. For this reason, later research into ABA often focused on examining the extent to which the flaws in the Lovaas design affected its results.

    The example you mentioned earlier regarding experiment bias in assigning children to groups was addressed by the UC-San Fran study. Your concerns about the use of aversives have been largely addressed by many studies that did not use aversives but which resulted in relatively significant gains for those who received ABA. Your concerns about Lovaas’ decision to measure child progress using IQ scores and school placements are addressed by later studies which use other measures but which still support the notion that ABA education provision works very well for autistic children. None of these studies are more important than the Lovaas study in themselves, but their value is often best appreciated in the light of the Lovaas study. For this reason, it is far from shocking to see that Independent bodies like the US Surgeon General make reference to the Lovaas study.

    “ABA has been used on autistic people for decades. In all that time, and with all the thousands of children treated, there has been only one randomised controlled trial which didn’t have great results. The ABA promoters have had long enough to come up with absolute and conclusive evidence, despite all the difficulties you mention in trial design. It could have, and should have been done and found to be very successful before before it receives priority state funding”

    ABA, as an intervention for autism, has been used for two decades. Your assertion that this is long enough to come up with absolute and conclusive evidence is baseless. As the name suggests, longitudinal studies take a long time. I could just as easily make an argument that if Global Warming exists, then twenty years was enough time to come up with conclusive evidence that it is real. Sadly, we will probably never have proof that global warming exists, but this is simply because research in the area is difficult. Does this mean that governments should wait until we have conclusive proof that climate change is related to human activity before acting? Of course not. Our course of action has to be based on the best available evidence. The empirical record supports the theory that climate change is related to human activity better than it does competing theories and likewise the empirical record supports the theory that ABA is the most effective method for treating autism better than any other theory. That’s what governments have to go with.

    “The gains made in all the subsequent studies, may just as well come from natural maturation and the benefits of dedicated instructin with a high adult to child ratio, and not from the style of teaching, ie the ABA itself.”

    The evidence out there suggests that this is unlikely. Take for instance:
    http://www.sonoma.edu/cihs/asd/pdf/Howard%20et%20al%202005.pdf

    “Our findings also shed some empirical light on the relation between the type and intensity of early intervention and benefits for children with autism. ‘‘Eclectic’’ treatment (a combination of TEACCH, sensory integration therapy, and some applied behavior analysis methods) did not prove very effective for our AP comparison group, even though it was provided intensively (i.e., for 30 h per week with adult:child ratios of 1:1 or 1:2) in classrooms specifically designed for children with autism by staff with considerable training and experience with the population. Mean change scores in all skill domains were substantially lower for the AP group than for their counterparts who received IBT [Intensive Behavioural Therapy], in fact reflecting losses rather than gains in some areas over 14 months of treatment (Table 6). These findings are consistent with those reported by Eikeseth et al. (2002) for a group of children with autism aged 4–7 years who received similarly intensive ‘‘eclectic’’ treatment in special education classrooms for 1 year. Thus, the popular notion that virtually any intervention can produce meaningful benefits for children with autism if it is provided intensively has not been confirmed by two controlled studies that addressed that hypothesis. Instead, IBT produced substantially larger improvements than intensive ‘‘eclectic’’ treatment in both studies. The non-intensive ‘‘eclectic’’ treatment experienced by our GP group (15 h per week of ‘‘developmentally appropriate’’ activities and sensory experiences provided in a 1:6 adult:child ratio) was not just ineffective; it produced negative mean change scores in multiple skill domains. In short, the effect of ‘eclectic’’treatment on both the AP and GP groups was to flatten or decrease rather than increase the slopes of the developmental trajectories of most children. Based on these findings, we would project that those children will lose more ground to their typically developing peers the longer they remain in such intervention programs.”

    Honestly, I don’t have the time to debate the intricacies of various studies at the moment. Most of what I’ve already said is actually pretty well summarised in the paper I’ve just linked to.

    In short, no other model of treatment or combination of treatments has the empirical support that ABA has. In those few studies where ABA has been compared with the “eclectic” model advocated by Hanafin, ABA has proven better. When a relevant professional states that a child needs an ABA education and the parents of the child believe it is appropriate, then the government should fund proper ABA education for that child.

  17. # Comment by Niall Feb 21st, 2008 01:02

    Buster:

    “Recognised researchers and academics of international standing are telling Joe Bloggses like me that the research is unclear about the efficacy of any one approach to the education of children with autism but we’re being bombarded by a media campaign to convince the nation that ABA (and ABA, only) is the answer for a certain type of child with autism. Fine. We’ve narrowed the field somewhat.”

    Who are these recognised researchers that you refer to? Yes, the evidence is unclear at the moment in certain respects. However, one thing that is not in doubt is that there is a great deal of evidence supporting ABA but that there is not supporting the type of provision advocated by the government.

    “Now, this stance represents a change in approach. A while back, we were told that ABA was the only approach for all autistic children.”

    Really, who told you this?

    “Next, we’re told that parents are bound by the recommendations of independent psychologists who say that their children need exclusive ABA. We’re not told who these independent experts are. We’re not told where we can find them. Where are they based? Who pays their salaries? Where is the evidence for their prescription of this method exclusively, given the aforementioned pronouncements of real experts who have gone on record in stating that the evidence for this approach doesn’t hold water?”

    These experts are not hard to find. If you picked up yesterday’s Independent you’ll see a list of several of them in the letter’s column. You’ll find some of them mentioned in the judgment I linked to in my above post. Anybody who looks for them can find them. All are members of the relevant professional bodies. If you want to get in touch with some of them, then just contact the Psychology Society of Ireland.

    As for the notion that the government’s “experts” are the “real experts”, well that’s a little rich. Some even admitted that they knew less than those who appeared on behalf of the plaintiff.

  18. # Comment by buster Feb 22nd, 2008 02:02

    Niall, I’ve tried to address you comments and questions on my previous post herewith:

    1) “Who are these recognised researchers that you refer to? Yes, the evidence is unclear at the moment in certain respects. However, one thing that is not in doubt is that there is a great deal of evidence supporting ABA but that there is not supporting the type of provision advocated by the government”

    The researchers I refer to are Patricia Howlin and Rita Jordan, just to mention two. The reason I find their arguments persuasive is that in addition to being academics and researchers, they are qualified practitioners in the general education/treatment of people with ASDs and have reviewed the research on the efficacy of the mind blowing number of so-called treatments that are being flogged e.g Auditory Integration Therapy, Secretin etc. In relation to your point about the “great deal of evidence supporting ABA…etc.”, this is true. There is a great deal of evidence (questionable study designs etc. discussed elsewhere) for ABA which is mostly published in ABA journals. Other methods of educational provision are admittedly under-researched but often the style of their delivery (child-centred, real educational methods that are not as amenable to measurement as the data driven ABA) presents challenges for their scientific study. That’s not to say their efficacy can’t or shouldn’t be evaluated. I believe they will. One thing that I’ve noticed about methods such as floor-time and TEACCH is that the children’s level of satisfaction and the enjoyment they derive from having structures adapted to suit their learning style. This is in marked contrast to the boredom and sometimes withdrawn presentation of many children who engage in table top Discrete Trials (a type of ABA) where the underlying focus is on getting them to conform to the tutor’s agenda notwithstanding their autistic learning style, sensory issues etc. Actually, there’d be an interesting study: the relative satisfaction/happiness of children receiving different teaching methods……

    2)“Now, this stance represents a change in approach. A while back, we were told that ABA was the only approach for all autistic children. Really, who told you this?”

    The early ABA lobby wanted exclusive ABA for all children diagnosed with autism and my understanding is that there are still a number of “experts” who feel that “ethically” they are bound to recommend this method to all children they assess as being on the autism spectrum.

    3) “These experts are not hard to find. If you picked up yesterday’s Independent you’ll see a list of several of them in the letter’s column. You’ll find some of them mentioned in the judgment I linked to in my above post. Anybody who looks for them can find them. All are members of the relevant professional bodies. If you want to get in touch with some of them, then just contact the Psychology Society of Ireland.”

    Did so. Thanks for the tip. By my reckoning, all of the experts mentioned in the letter are either lecturing on or running ABA courses. I’m not sure, either, which of these behaviour analysts have qualification in other areas of education/ psychology (by which I mean are trained clinicians: clinical/education psychologists or psychiatrists who can diagnose ASD and recommend treatments). None of them, to my knowledge, is working in a public service health/education setting so presumably one must pay for their expertise. I’m not sure on this last point so I’m open to correction. But didn’t the letter say that all these individuals were employed by universities?

    4) “As for the notion that the government’s “experts” are the “real experts”, well that’s a little rich. Some even admitted that they knew less than those who appeared on behalf of the plaintiff.”

    I never made or implied such a “notion”. However, I had a quick read of the judgment (thanks for the link) and it seems that the learned judge was not convinced that ABA was the more appropriate method in this case. And this after a very long case followed by almost a year considering all the evidence. It seems that the plaintiff’s experts didn’t persuade him that their method of choice was superior to those of the defendant.

    Best,

    B.

  19. # Comment by Niall Feb 23rd, 2008 21:02

    “The researchers I refer to are Patricia Howlin and Rita Jordan, just to mention two. The reason I find their arguments persuasive is that in addition to being academics and researchers, they are qualified practitioners in the general education/treatment of people with ASDs and have reviewed the research on the efficacy of the mind blowing number of so-called treatments that are being flogged e.g Auditory Integration Therapy, Secretin etc.”

    Don’t doubt that Howlin and Jordan are experts, but their positions on ABA are pretty nuanced. I doubt that either would claim that it does not work or that there is more evidence to support another form of education, intervention or treatment.

    And rest assured, there are plenty of experts who have the same sort of experience as the pair you’ve mentioned but who would more readily recommend ABA. Most experts in ABA have many years of experience in dealing with children who have special needs.

    “There is a great deal of evidence (questionable study designs etc. discussed elsewhere) for ABA which is mostly published in ABA journals. Other methods of educational provision are admittedly under-researched but often the style of their delivery (child-centred, real educational methods that are not as amenable to measurement as the data driven ABA) presents challenges for their scientific study. That’s not to say their efficacy can’t or shouldn’t be evaluated. I believe they will. One thing that I’ve noticed about methods such as floor-time and TEACCH is that the children’s level of satisfaction and the enjoyment they derive from having structures adapted to suit their learning style. This is in marked contrast to the boredom and sometimes withdrawn presentation of many children who engage in table top Discrete Trials (a type of ABA) where the underlying focus is on getting them to conform to the tutor’s agenda notwithstanding their autistic learning style, sensory issues etc.”

    What is wrong with an ABA journal? Surely it’s the most appropriate for an ABA study to be published in an ABA journal? You wouldn’t discount social psychology simply because most research into social psychology happens to be published in journals for social psychology, so why would someone raise questions about ABA research simply because it is published in an ABA journal? I find it a little odd that you’d attack ABA for having questionable empirical support but then speak well of TEACCH. As for floor time, versions of it are used in Ireland’s ABA schools and table top discrete trials are only used where appropriate. If a child is becoming bored to the point where it is affecting their learning in a significant manner, and the ABA teacher fails to alter the way in which the program is presented, then that is bad ABA. Children normally have a degree of control of the day’s agenda, but at the same time, if children are to be prepared for integrating into a regular classroom with neurotypical peers, they have to learn to delay gratification and conform to the dictates of a teacher/boss/parent. It all depends on the child in questions, and ABA education provision is always highly individualised to address the needs of the pupil.

    “Actually, there’d be an interesting study: the relative satisfaction/happiness of children receiving different teaching methods……”

    I’m not sure how exactly you’d measure happiness, but it has been found that the families of children who receive ABA education are less stressed and report greater satisfaction ratings that those who receive other forms of education for their autistic family members.

    “I’m not sure, either, which of these behaviour analysts have qualification in other areas of education/ psychology (by which I mean are trained clinicians: clinical/education psychologists or psychiatrists who can diagnose ASD and recommend treatments). None of them, to my knowledge, is working in a public service health/education setting so presumably one must pay for their expertise. I’m not sure on this last point so I’m open to correction. But didn’t the letter say that all these individuals were employed by universities?”

    I can’t speak as to everybody listed but I know that most are full members of the PSI. At the least, they’d all have a Masters level education in psychology or a related area. While in some cases you might occasionally pay for their expertise, Ireland’s ABA schools are run by charities. Parents may make contributions but I’ve never heard of anybody being denied an ABA education simply because they couldn’t afford to pay an expert. Demand outstrips supply.

    “However, I had a quick read of the judgment (thanks for the link) and it seems that the learned judge was not convinced that ABA was the more appropriate method in this case. And this after a very long case followed by almost a year considering all the evidence. It seems that the plaintiff’s experts didn’t persuade him that their method of choice was superior to those of the defendant.”

    Actually, the case was more complicated than that because the Judge decided that he did not have to rule on whether the ABA approach was better, only whether or not the “eclectic” model would have been inappropriate for the child in question. It wasn’t a question of which method was better but whether or not the department’s model was good enough.

  20. # Comment by buster Feb 24th, 2008 01:02

    ABA is really a dinosaur within mainstream psychology. Most behaviourism courses in psychology degrees are done in Freshman courses and often covered as part of History of Psychology modules. Behaviorism is usually viewed as a period in psychology (overseen by skinner and his ilk) where the application of the scientific method, which had been so successful in the natural sciences, was applied to the study and analysis of human (and animal) behavior. Its limitations and narrow focus lead to the “cognitive shift” whereby psychologists realised that they had to stop ignoring that people were sentient beings- they had cognititions, feelings, emotions and were more than a series of emitted behaviours. ABA journals are produced by hangers-on from the mid last-century who have persisted in viewing all behaviour as being linked to contingencies and being amenable to modification through operant conditioning. The data and studies in the majority of these journals are carried out with autistic or learning disabled people (who gives consent?).

  21. # Comment by Niall Feb 24th, 2008 09:02

    Buster, that’s a very strange history of psychology. If behaviourism is a dinosaur, then we live in Bedrock. Firstly, behaviorists never claimed that emotions and cognitions were not important, only that due to their unobservable nature, they should not be the focus of experimentation. This was a reaction to the Freudians and others who used unreliable and unverifiable methods. As cognitive psychologists began to make progress in studying cognition, this led to the rise of cognitive-behaviorism, which is the dominant school of thought for modern psychology in many respects. I suspect that you’re confusing radical behaviourism with behaviourism. ABA certainly does not ignore emotions or cognition.

    In regards your assertion that it mostly taught as part of the history of psychology, well that is certainly not the case in most of Ireland where it is studied in depth at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. I have no reason to believe that Ireland is unique in this regard.

    Finally, as for consent, it’s no more an issue in ABA studies than it is in any area of psychology. In Ireland, any research that is carried out follows the rules that the PSI has put in place for conducting research in the area and must also be given a green light by an ethics panel.

  22. # Comment by buster Feb 24th, 2008 12:02

    Niall,

    “ABA certainly does not ignore emotions or cognition.”

    I’m really interested to hear this. Can you tell me how ABA takes account of emotions or cognition?

  23. # Comment by Niall Feb 24th, 2008 14:02

    Honestly, I’m not really sure how I’d describe it because it takes place on a number of levels and I’m not really sure what level you’re interested in. Obviously, if the emotional reaction of a child to any stimulus is of great concern. Similarly, if someone is administering a program designed to expand a child’s community of reinforcers, then they’re going to be concerned with a child’s emotional reaction to, say, playing with a new toy or reading a book. If the child shows no signs of actually enjoying the toy/book, then the program needs to be modified since the goal has not been achieved. In many cases, children will have programs designed to improve their emotional understanding ranging from interpreting facial expressions to predicting the emotional reactions of others in certain scenarios. On the most basic level, a teacher is unlikely to “push” a child too hard if they’re upset over something. The teacher will probably try to calm the child down before going forward. On a higher level, there was a few decades ago to recognise cognition as mental behaviour so that it was treated the same way as any other behaviour in certain respects and the academic materials presented to children will normally have been informed by research into cognitive psychology.

    Quite frankly, that’s getting into the kind of area I really don’t have the time or inclination to discuss in this context. I’m not an expert and I don’t want to appear to be setting myself up as one. If people want to know about getting an ABA education for their children, I’d rather they didn’t get their knowledge of the subject from me. I’m volunteering this information because Mary Hanafin and others have made misrepresented ABA. If somebody wants to know about how they might go about getting treatment for their child, who is qualified to administer it, the ethical guidelines used in research with autistic children etc., I’d recommend that they contact the PSI or if they are so inclined that they could find a lot of information in an ABA text book or a psychological journal.

    http://www.psihq.ie/
    http://www.amazon.com/Applied-Behavior-Analysis-John-Cooper/dp/0131421131/ref=pd_sim_b_title_2
    http://seab.envmed.rochester.edu/jaba/

  24. # Comment by coc Feb 25th, 2008 12:02

    ABA is really a dinosaur within mainstream psychology. Most behaviourism courses in psychology degrees are done in Freshman courses and often covered as part of History of Psychology modules. Behaviorism is usually viewed as a period in psychology (overseen by skinner and his ilk) where the application of the scientific method, which had been so successful in the natural sciences, was applied to the study and analysis of human (and animal) behavior. Its limitations …”
    Buster, your mask is slipping. The start of your post encapsulates nicely the Department of Education’s dishonesty on this issue perfectly. On the one hand they fall over themselves assuring all and sundry that ABA is excellent and a wonderful intervention. On the other hand they cite Jordan and Howlin as the authorities for the rejection of the overwhelming evidence for ABA, thus betraying their real thoughts on ABA.

    They fail to see the contradiction: either ABA is rubbish without any real scientific backing as Howlin and Jordan assert, or it is the early intervention of choice for children with ASDs as nearly everybody else thinks. The DoES tries to have its cake and eat it. It uses ‘experts’ with a long track record of anti ABA positions to attack the evidence for ABA, but fails to follow through and exclude ABA from the educational programs of these children. Indeed Rita Jordan is on record as virulently rejecting ABA and all its works when she publicly stated that her acquaintance with ABA was back in the 1970s and that she sees the scientific and philosophical basis of the discipline of behaviour analysis as intellectual nonsense. (Ref. Jordan, (2001) Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry, 3, 421-423.) Of course she is entitled to her opinion, but that’s all it is – opinion. It is hard however to see how someone with this view could possibly be put forward as someone who supports the Department’s characterisation of ABA as an intervention that has ‘an important role to play’.

    This is the fundamental dishonesty of those who claim to follow Jordan. She rejects ABA outright as intellectual nonsense. The Minister cannot use this person as support for her ‘eclectic’ provision, if that ‘eclectic’ provision is to include ABA as a core component.

    Dr Jordan’s fundamental dishonesty is her failure to do research on eclecticism. She sits in her academic ivory tower in Birmingham denouncing all evidence for ABA, but never once thinks to conduct her own research to attempt to prove the efficacy of her preferred ‘eclectic’ provision.

    How someone with any integrity could reject the evidence for ABA due to the perceived lack of perfect research, but then push a mix of TEACCH, Floortime, Facilitated Communication (FFS!) and god knows what else when there is an almost complete lack of research for any of them, never mind research on how they work when randomly mixed together, never ceases to amaze me.

    So Buster, this is why I suggested your mask is slipping. Are you a believer in the efficacy of ABA or do you follow the Gospel according to Jordan? If the former then you should welcome the expansion of ABA Schools or classes for those who need them, supervised and run by ABA professionals. If the latter you should call on the Minsiter to close all ABA schools and root out this heresy from the eclectic classes too.

  25. # Comment by buster Feb 25th, 2008 15:02

    COC,

    I’m struck by the strong language you use and the images they evoke: “gospel”, “heresy”, “denouncing”. Unusual terminology to use in discussing the education of children with autism. I don’t have unquestioning faith in anything or anyone because I don’t think it’s wise. I’m innately suspicious of anyone with evangelic zeal. I always wonder what I’m being sold! Some might call me cautious. Others might call me churlish. I hope I have an eye to the bottom line, however.

    Respectfully yours,
    B.

  26. # Comment by coc Feb 25th, 2008 18:02

    Emm, OK. Would it be rude to mention dinosaurs or their ilk? You didn’t answer any of the points I made. Here they are again, shorn of all imagery.

    1) Jordan thinks ABA is intellectual nonsense, so how can Hanafin cite her as support for an eclectic model which is ‘very supportive’ of ABA?
    2) Jordan has never bothered to do any research on eclecticism. I wonder why? What do you think?
    3) Some of the other constituent parts of the eclectic provision have no evidential basis at all. Why do you think they are used? I’m especially interested in your views on the use of Facilitated Communication.
    4) Do you think the ABA Schools should be closed and replaced with eclectic schools? If not, why not?

    In all your answers try to keep your eye on the bottom line! ;-)

  27. # Comment by buster Feb 25th, 2008 20:02

    coc,

    1) Jordan thinks ABA is intellectual nonsense, so how can Hanafin cite her as support for an eclectic model which is ‘very supportive’ of ABA?

    I wasn’t aware Jordan called ABA intellectual nonsense. If she did, I don’t agree with that statement. Only a flat earther would discount the power of behavioural techniques. However, to continue the natural history analogy (sorry), I think that our understanding of the nature of the human animal has evolved from a focus on the observable and measurable (behaviourism) to an acknowledgment of the other aspects of being. I refer, of course, to emotion, and more particularly to cognition. With regard to the second part of your question, I cannot speak for anyone who cites Dr. Jordan or who cites any other expert.

    2) Jordan has never bothered to do any research on eclecticism. I wonder why? What do you think?

    I’m not au fait with the full extent of Jordan’s research interests. I’ll take your word for it that she hasn’t researched so-called “eclectic” approaches. I have heard Jordan say that she views ABA as a therapy and she seems to be interested in education in its broadest sense. ABA (particularly when used in early intervention) is effective in preparing children to learn. However, if it is used as the overarching method through which all information is delivered, it is, in my opinion, inadequate. It is inadequate because it assumes that children’s learning is contingent on reinforcement. I believe that there exists in all children an intrinsic motivation to learn , including children with autism. I cannot prove this, of course.

    3) Some of the other constituent parts of the eclectic provision have no evidential basis at all. Why do you think they are used? I’m especially interested in your views on the use of Facilitated Communication.

    I’m not an expert on eclectic provision or of its constituent parts so I have to pass on this question, I’m afraid. However, insofar as some of the approaches I’ve heard mentioned in the Press are based on behavioural principles-PECS and, to a lesser extent TEACCH- I’d imagine that they’re not incompatible with the ABA methodologies currently in use. I know very little about FC.

    4) Do you think the ABA Schools should be closed and replaced with eclectic schools? If not, why not?

    I’m not in a position to answer this question since I am not well acquainted with any of the ABA schools (or eclectic, for that matter). I would be surprised if any school for children with autism adhered exclusively to any one method of intervention. You probably know more about the methods employed in ABA schools and if all methods are delivered using behavioural principles. I’d imagine that some methods have to be incompatible with ABA: experiential learning? Floor Time? Co-operative play? Music appreciation? My preference would be for autism-specific educational provision delivered by professionals who truly understand the nature of autism and how it differs from typical development. Integral to my (utopian) vision would be close involvement of parents and support from ancillary therapists.

  28. # Comment by coc Feb 25th, 2008 21:02

    1)Thank you for your honesty. Sadly, I don’t think it is reflected in the Minister’s position.
    2)ABA (particularly when used in early intervention) is effective in preparing children to learn. However, if it is used as the overarching method through which all information is delivered, it is, in my opinion, inadequate. It is inadequate because it assumes that children’s learning is contingent on reinforcement. I believe that there exists in all children an intrinsic motivation to learn , including children with autism. I cannot prove this, of course.
    My main objection to your answer is the last sentence. Of course you are entitled to your opinion, especially since you openly admit that is all it is. What bothers me most about the Minister’s position is the complete lack of appreciation that eclecticism ought to be proven if it is to be applied to all children with autism. If there is to be no proof of your theory how do we know you are right? What if you are wrong? What if Hanafin is wrong?
    3)Again thank you for your honesty. Sadly, the Minister has not passed on this question and has prescribed eclecticism for all, despite the total lack of evidence for same.
    4)Again, an honest answer. Thank you.

  29. # Comment by colly Mar 2nd, 2008 01:03

    So, then, experts, where are the constructive proposals to do some proper research on ABA in Ireland?

    All we have now is a glorified muck throwing contest back and forth across the fence that separates the government and those of us sad tax payers who need answers; arguments based on more arguments about a study done long ago somewhere else. We do not even know what is causing the autism we see in Ireland, or whether it has the same biological cause(s), or even the same level of incidence, as the autism that has featured in past studies in other countries (e.g., Lovaas; Remington).

    All we have is supposition; no real understanding.

    What a sad miserable reflection on our government and education sector, and all of us for that matter, that no one has got off their arse and organised some research here in Ireland. We’ve had twelve ‘pilot project’ ABA schools up and running now for a few years: where is the scientific data that should long since have been gathered from these Government licenced (and part publicly funded) ‘pilot projects’????? Did the High Court not ask for this to be produced?

    What is the point of pilot projects that do not help improve our level of understanding and provide data to be used in court cases like the one we have just seen?

    Why must we go around the silly merry-go-round time and time again? It’s all a bit autistic in itself really, like that movie, “Groundhog day”?!

  30. # Comment by Harold L Doherty Mar 20th, 2008 00:03

    Hello coc and others.

    I hope you don’t mind me offering the the following observations.

    I did make reference to the MADSEC report and also to other studies in my public comments but not as an independent analyst. I am just a father who had to decide what to do in terms of interventions, viewed as either health or an education interventions for my now 12 year old son diagnosed with Autism Disorder and profound developmental delays. If you wait 20 years for the perfect study or for the children in some of the studies to become adults you will have missed out on the opportunity to help your children. Those are some of the suggestions offered by Ms Michelle Dawson.

    As a parent I did not have that luxury. Your child has to be helped now, not after Michelle Dawson’s perfect study is completed decades from now, if ever. Like most parents in North America I followed the advice of responsible reviewing authorites who have looked at the research literature which is actually much more extensive than the original Lovaas studies. In addition to the MADSEC and US Surgeon General reports there were also reviews by state agencies in New York and California and by the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.

    Provinces across Canada have been implementing ABA in pre-school agencies and in some provinces, like my home province of New Brunswick, in the schools. My son, to his benefit, receives ABA instruction in school. For those of us who advocated for ABA we faced the same arguments from authorities that are emanating from Ireland today. You obviously will have to decide for yourselves which direction to take. Your Minister Hanafin though is advancing arguments that were not found persuasive years ago in Canada.

    Very recently, on October 29, 2007, the American Academy of Pediatrics, issued its review of the available research on autism interventions -
    Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. With respect to ABA as an autism intervention the Report stated:

    “The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in
    ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of
    research by using single-subject methodology21,25,27,28 and
    in controlled studies of comprehensive early intensive
    behavioral intervention programs in university and
    community settings.29–40 Children who receive early intensive
    behavioral treatment have been shown to make
    substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic
    performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some
    measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have
    been significantly better than those of children in control
    groups.31–40″

    Ms Michelle Dawson holds her opinion and her demand for a perfect, completely randomized study, above all the research referenced by the AAP, the MADSEC Report , the US Surgeon General, the Association for Science in Autism Treatment,(with literally dozens of expert advisors)the California and New York state authorities and the Canadian provinces which have all begun implementing ABA as an autism intervention.

    As a parent I chose not to follow the rhetoric of the anti-ABA activists like Ms Dawson. My son has benefited from ABA from toilet training to allowing us as his parents to communicate with him, and vice versa, to providing him with the ability to do some reading and writing and ‘rithmetic to allowing us to reduce his meltdowns and self injurious behaviour. My son’s name is Conor and Conor waits anxiously for his ABA home therapist to arrive. He loves it and there is nothing abusive about it. It does not in any way impact on his individuality or deprive him of any joy of life whatsoever. If you don’t believe me please feel free to visit my blog site and see the pictures of the smiling happy boy that I love.

    I know that all parents must make difficult choices for their children, autistic or not. But I hope you make yours based on the deliberations of responsible professional reviews of the research literature and not by ideologues who would rather you waited a couple of decades for a “perfect” study to emerge. There are hundreds of studies supporting the effectiveness of ABA in helping autistic children realize real gains. And I hope you do not believe the inaccurate characterizations and nonsense about ABA turning your children into robots or depriving them of their humanity or individuality. As a parent I can tell you that stuff is a …. crock.

    I wish you all well.

    Harold L Doherty
    Fredericton NB Canada

    (I am told my ancestors came from Donegal – don’t know if it is true though)

  31. # Comment by Sinead English Aug 2nd, 2008 00:08

    I am enquiring do you know of any Resources and provisions for children with Autism. As I am doing a project and I would like to know what is out there. Can you help

    Best Regards

    Sinead English

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