In July 2021, the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis (ONTABA) released a report summarizing the current state of the research for all ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis)-based interventions. The purpose of this report was to provide accurate information about ABA and review recent ABA research pertaining mostly to autism. The report covers several large topics, but can be summarized into four main points which have been broken down below:
1. Research reviews of ABA-based interventions re-affirm the benefits of ABA as an intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)/Autistic people and many other groups of people.
The articles reported on by ONTABA were published within the last 3 years and highlighted various beneficial outcomes of ABA therapy. Specifically, these articles assess the effectiveness of ABA-based interventions to support skill development for children between the ages of 4 and 13 in areas such as learning, language and communication, social and play skills, and self-help. Additionally, during interventions children acquire essential ‘learning to learn’ skills that reduce barriers to learning and help them learn more effectively in the future (Pitts et al., 2019). The outcomes of newly published articles still build on the main tenets of ABA that were originally outlined by Baer, Wolf, and Risley (1968). Specifically, that goals of ABA interventions are socially significant for the client, improvements are measurable, and the outcomes are maintained and generalized across different environments.
ABA practitioners design and carry out interventions that are informed by a large group of valid and reliable studies. The majority of which emphasize positive reinforcement to increase and maintain new and developing adaptive skills. The thoughts and feelings of those we support are also always considered throughout the course of interventions. ABA delivers supports in several other ways, including, but not limited to:
· Generalizing or transferring behaviours and skills from one environment to another
· Modifying learning environments to minimize interfering behaviours
· Reduce interfering behaviours that may be unsafe for the person of others such as self-harm or aggression.
2. ABA research continues to be conducted by independent researchers with no direct interest in the outcome of studies
It is also important to note that any invalid findings, poor quality studies or potential conflict of interests are mitigated during the publication process using peer-review. ONTABA’s newest report breaks this down and explains that as researchers, there is a system of checks and balances requiring authors to declare any conflicts of interests whether those be actual, potential or perceived and involve financial and non-financial benefits. The report also cited a review by Bottena-Beuten et al. (2020) which concluded that ABA is no more likely to express conflicts of interest than any other field providing early intervention (e.g., clinical psychology, special education, occupational therapy).
In addition to support from professionals within and across fields, assessing the social validity of ABA interventions for our clients and their families is also critical. Social validity refers to the impact of treatment goals, procedures, and effects on not only the direct recipients of treatment but also on others that may be indirectly influenced by the treatment such as families and peers. Whenever possible, this information should always come from direct recipients. However, when individuals are unable to provide this information themselves, we often rely on family members and caregivers that know them well to provide an indirect measure of social validity. Reviews of social validity for ABA-based interventions often report positive ratings for consumer satisfaction, clinically significant behavioural changes, and socially important targets for behaviour change.
3. ABA uses systematic single-case experimental designs, which are a sound method for determining the effectiveness of interventions, however, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are also commonly used to evaluate the effectiveness of ABA-Based intervention.
Single-case studies are the most common research design used in ABA, and generally rely on the observation of a small group of individual clients (i.e., fewer than 10). There are several reasons why these studies are better suited to ABA including:
1. Many studies are conducted in everyday treatment settings
2. Studies address behaviours that are of interest to many practitioners, who are typically concerned with individual clients rather than statistical averages
3. The settings, participants, target behaviours, and treatment procedures are usually specified in research reports so a reader can determine how closely they match the treatment environment being considered.
However, there are a number of randomized control trials (RCTs) and other large-group studies that support the use of ABA and early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for individuals with autism/Autistic individuals. For example, several of the reports include large-group studies that center on training parents, caregivers, and educators to implement ABA interventions and communication systems. Each of these reports provide evidence that ABA-based interventions produce positive outcomes in nonverbal communication, pretend play, and tests of IQ and language skills. Other large-group studies evaluated the effects of clinician delivered interventions and assessed outcomes of cognitive skills, communication, and adaptive skills. These reports also provided evidence that early intervention based in ABA effectively improves skill deficits observed in children with autism and other intellectual disabilities.
4. Ethics are integral to ABA. As with other interventions, side-effects associated with ABA strategies are mitigated whenever possible.
As members of a helping profession, it is our primary aim to keep the interest of our direct clients at the forefront of our services. All certified behavioural professionals engage in a number of regular practices to help ensure that our interventions are delivered ethically and with a neuro-diversity informed approach. Some of these practices include:
· Ongoing continuing education in ethics
· Opposition to any attempts to “cure” or “normalize” children with autism/Autistic children
· Receiving input from the autistic community in order to understand autistic priorities around intervention targets
· Teaching functional skills that promote autonomy that enables an individual to exert choice and control in their life wherever possible.
To access the full ONTABA report or any further details on the included literature, please click the link below: