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OWEN, K. O. (1999). Applied Behavior Analysis: Its Impact on the Treatment for Autistic Behavior. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 2. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 28, 2023 .

Applied Behavior Analysis: Its Impact on the Treatment for Autistic Behavior

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABA therapy is a type of therapy that is being used today with autistic children. There have been other researchers who have experimented with ABA therapy and found interesting results. In this study I hope to find a noticeable difference in autistic behavior as a result from ABA therapy. My study consisted of a single subject, an autistic boy. I collected data on specific behaviors. I collected my first set of data form the year he began the therapy. I again collected data two years after he had been receiving ABA therapy. I analyzed my data by taking the number of behaviors expressed and then figuring the percentage of the behavior expressed. I constructed twelve graphs to show the outcome of my results.

Autism is a label that has been placed upon individuals for many years. In the past years, people understood autism as a life sentence for the ones who were diagnosed (Maurice, 1996). Today the Autism Society of America has many treatments available to those with Autism. One type of treatment is known as ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis (also known as behavioral intervention or behavioral treatment). There has been scientific evidence that Applied Behavior can produce comprehensive and lasting improvements in many skill areas for most people with autism. There have been no other treatments besides ABA that have shown sufficient evidence of effectiveness (Lovass & Smith, 1989; Schreibman, 1988; Schreibam, Charlop, & Milstein, 1993; Smith, 1993). The families of autistic children are often falsely informed about behavioral treatments. The families are told that the treatment is ineffective and harmful. There are families who are fortunate and find the one approach with the scientific evidence, that treatment being Applied Behavior Analysis. Applied Behavior Analysis uses methods based on scientific principles of behavior to construct socially useful repertoires and reduce problematic ones (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1989). Autism is seen as a syndrome of inadequate behaviors and other excesses, but the behaviors can be managed and changed in specific, monitored programs that create involvement within the environment. Applied Behavior Analysis method for autism emphasizes the importance of teaching small, measurable units of behavior systematically. The behaviors range from eye contact to social interaction. These behaviors must be broken down into small steps. The steps are taught by giving a certain cue or instruction. The responses that are correct, are followed by reinforcers. Reinforcement will help create the behavior to become continuous. The responses that occur from Applied Behavior Analysis may not be positive. There are a few variables that may suppress inappropriate responses. The two most important ones are time and positive reinforcement. If these variables are used incorrectly, it can cause problems with the child`s mental rights and deteriorate rather than improve behavior (Green, 1990; Repp & Singh, 1990).

There have been many interesting studies done on Applied Behavior Analysis. One particular study was done in 1987, by Ivar Lovass. The name of the study was, "The UCLA Young Autism Project". Lovass conducted a study on home-based behavioral intervention for autistic children. Lovass had an intensive-treatment experimental group of nineteen children who had been diagnosed with autism. These children were receiving forty hours a week of one-to-one Applied Behavior treatment. A comparable group of children received less than ten hours a week of one-to-one Applied Behavioral treatment. There was a second control group that contained twenty-one comparable children and they were treated in other programs. All the children that were involved in this study had autism. The results of Lovass` study showed a significant difference between the experimental group and both control groups. Nine (47%) of the nineteen children who received Applied Behavior treatment successfully completed regular first grade and obtained an average or above-average scores on IQ tests. Eight (42%) of the children completed language-delayed or learning disability classes in first grade. The research done by Ivar Lovass brings a very important question to mind. Does intensive one-to-one teaching allow an autistic child to actively interact in their physical and social environment? The answer I would give to that question is found in the purpose of my study. I am going to show that Applied Behavior Analysis will have a positive impact on autistic behavior.


My subject was a five year old autistic child who lives in St. Joseph Missouri. The child and the family received a free dinner for their participation.

The only material being used in this experiment is the ABA therapy.

I will be observing an autistic child at his house in a room that has been designed for his ABA therapy. I will receive permission from the parents through a consent form. I will be observing while the child is receiving therapy from his current ABA therapist. I will calculate the amount of time the child is receiving ABA therapy, and the changes in behaviors over that time. The behaviors that I am going to observe are: play skills, communication skills, self-help skills, motor skills, social skills, computer skills, eating behaviors, receptive language, expressive language, and imitation. I will calculate the amount of time the child is receiving ABA therapy, the independent variable, and the changes in the behaviors over that time, the dependent variable. The comparison in change of behaviors will be accounted by the progression of typical child behaviors.

I studied six specific behaviors of one autistic child who was receiving ABA therapy. I collected data from a two year period on the number of behaviors expressed and the percentage of the behaviors expressed. I placed my data on twelve different graphs that are located at the bottom of my document. The graphs showed the number of behaviors expressed and the percentage of attempted behavior expressed. The data revealed that there was no noticeable improvement or reduction in the behaviors expressed of the two year period.

The study of ABA therapy and its impact on the behaviors of an autistic child revealed no noticeable improvement or regression over a two year period. The study could have been conducted using more than one subject to allow for inferential statistics to be calculated. It would be interesting to see the comparison of more subjects that were autistic and receiving the same program to typical children, who are not involved in a program. It has been suggested from other studies that each child develops at his or her own rate. This bit of research could have been applied in my study, also. My data showed a gap between the year 1997 and 1999, and I also took six months from 1997 and only three months from 1999. The year 1998, and the months left out in 1999, may have had a different affect on my results The results of my study imply that even though an autistic child is receiving ABA therapy that does not mean it is going to show or make an improvement in that child`s life. This therapy may lead to what is called a mental belief, the parents have it set in their mind that since their child is receiving this therapy his or her behavior will improve. There are many confounding variables that may have been an issue in my study. For example, the child may have been receiving a certain medication to stimulate the brain or chemically balance the body. These issues would be interesting for a future researcher to investigate. ABA therapy was brought about many years ago. A man by the name of O. Ivar Lovaas conducted studies at different colleges. The results from his studies did show improvement in the autistic children who received the ABA therapy. The recognition for ABA therapy is really being to evolve in the world today. ABA therapy can be taken and studied by other scientists, but from my experience it must be understood that there needs to be a great deal of precise control of variables, knowledge of the development system for the children, and most of all a wide number of subjects for comparison. If this study was to be done in different settings, differences would appear, because no child is exactly the same.

Autism Society of America [ASA].(1995). Advocate, 27, 3. In Maurice, C (Ed.), Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism (pp. 29). Austin, Texas: PRO-ED, Inc. Cooper, J.O., Heron, T., & Heward, W. (1989). Applied Behavior Analysis. Columbus, OH: Merrill. In Maurice, C. (Ed.), Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism (pp. 29). Austin, Texas: PRO-ED, Inc. Green, G. (1990). Least restrictive use of reductive procedures: Guidelines and competencies. In A.C. Repp and N.N. Singh (Eds.), Perspectives on the use of nonaversive and aversive intervention for person with developmental disabilities (pp. 479-493). Dekalb, IL: Sycamore Press. Lovass, O.I., & Smith, T. (1989). A comprehensive behavioral theory of autistic children: Paradigm for research and treatment. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 20, 17-29. Maurice, C., (1996). Behavioral Intervention for Young Children with Autism: Manual for Parents and Professionals (G. Green & S.C. Luce, Eds.) Austin, Texas: PRO-ED, Inc. Repp, A.C., & Singh, N.N. (1990). Perspectives on the use of nonaversive and aversive interventions for persons with developmental disabilities. Dekalb, IL: Sycamore Press. In Maurice, C (Ed.), Behavior Intervention for Young Children with Autism (pp. 30). Austin, Texas: PRO-ED, Inc. Schreibam, L. (1988). Autism In C. Maurice (Ed.), Newbury Park, CA: Sage Schreibman, L., Charplop, M.H., & Milstein, J.P. (1993). Autism: Behavioral treatment. In V.P. Vanhassett & M. Hersen (Eds.), Handbook of Behavior therapy and pharmacotherapy for children: A comparative analysis (pp. 149-170). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Smith, T. (1993). Autism. In .R. Giles (Ed.), Handbook of effective psychotherapy (pp.107-133). New York: Plenum.

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Submitted 5/3/99 12:10:26 PM
Last Edited 5/4/99 1:47:26 PM
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