Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Treating autism with applied behavior analysis

Nowadays there are many different fields were you can work as a psychologist. In my case, I would like to specialize in clinical and health psychology and probably one of the things I will have to deal with is autism. It is important to know that one of the ways of treating autism is by applied behavior analysis (ABA).  We know that applied behavior analysis can be defined as the attempt to solve behavior problems by providing antecedents and/or consequences that can change the behavior and the use of it in treating autism has increase recently.

The National Research Council’s book Educating Children with Autism (2001) concluded that ABA was most effective and best research supported treatment for the main characteristics of autism spectrum. ABA is fully recognized as an effective and safe treatment to this disorder. We have to bear in mind also that applied behavior analysis is an objective discipline which is focused on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior.

There have been different studies that have proved that ABA procedures can create improvements in social relationships, self-care, communication, play and employment. It has been seen that these techniques can develop basic skills such as listening, looking, and imitating; skills which are not present on an autistic patient. It also affects positively more complex skills such as conserving, reading and understanding another person’s point of view.

A meta-analysis carried out by Virués-Ortega showed in the results that long term, comprehensive applied behavior analysis treatment leads to positive effects in intellectual functioning, language development, acquisition of daily living skills and social functioning in children diagnosed with autism. It is important to mention that language-related outcomes such as IQ, receptive and expressive language and/or communication, were superior to non-verbal IQ, social functioning and daily living skills.

All of the studies done in this field involved different age groups from preschoolers to adults. It doesn’t matter in which group the autistic patient is in; results have shown that ABA increase participation in family and community activities, among other things.

This method of intervention can be used to increase behaviors, tech new skills, maintain behavior, transfer or generalize behavior from one response or situation to another, narrow or restrict conditions under which interfering behavior appears and also reduce this interfering behavior.

It is important to know that therapist personalize the intervention and treatment to each patient’s needs, skills, preferences, skills and family situation.  This is way probably one ABA treatment directed to a specific patient may not work with another learner and will look different to the program customized for the latter.  


Virués-Ortega, J. (2010). Applied behavior analytic intervention for autism in early childhood: Meta-analysis, meta-regression and dose–response meta-analysis of multiple outcomes. Clinical psychology review, 30(4), 387-399.

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