80 Autism is Treatable

Based on research by O. Ivar Lovaas, 1987. Psychology Science Minute written by Byron Wine, Ph.D., BCBA-D.

Today more children are diagnosed with Autism (1 in 88) than decades ago. Identified by marked impairment of communication, poor social relations, and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior, their prognosis is poor without treatment.  Medical therapies alone are not effective.

Fortunately, psychologist O. Ivar Lovaas first demonstrated in 1987 that using intensive training based upon applied behavior analysis was effective in treating children diagnosed at an early age with autism. Applied behavior analysis is a discipline based upon the work of noted psychologist B. F. Skinner. Lovaas worked with young children with autism, average age 35 months old for 40 hours/week for up to 6 years. These showed significant gains in IQ, with 47% achieving normal intellectual and educational functioning in contrast to only 2% of the control children who received only 10 hours per week.  Researchers have since extended and confirmed these results

With wide media coverage, numerous treatment options are available.  Caregivers, be cautioned.  Fully investigate any claims of efficacy before enrolling children in treatment. While nobody can guarantee results for any one child, early detection and diagnosis, followed by intensive applied behavior analysis-derived therapy, remains the most effective research based strategy in treating children with autism.


Lovaas, O. I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55(1), 3-9.

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(4), 49-68.

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