Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


First Annual Autism Conference; Boston, MA; 2007

Event Details

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Invited Paper Session #5

What Has Behavior Analysis Contributed to the Understanding and Treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders?

Saturday, February 3, 2007
10:30 AM–11:30 AM
Grand Ballroom
Area: AUT; Domain: Applied Research
Instruction Level: Basic
CE Instructor: Tristram Smith, Ph.D.
TRISTRAM SMITH (University of Rochester Medical Center)
Dr. Tristram Smith is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). He serves as the research director for the Multisite Young Autism Project, which is a federally-funded study on early, intensive behavioral intervention based on the UCLA/Lovaas model for children with autism. He is also an investigator in a study in the Center for Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment at the University of Rochester. He has authored or co-authored many of the most widely-cited studies on treatment outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

Behavior analysts published the first data-based studies documenting successful intervention for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and now conduct a majority of treatment studies reported in the literature. Early research, beginning in the 1960s, showed that even nonverbal individuals with ASD could learn to communicate and that even severely aggressive individuals could reduce their problem behavior when instructors systematically used cueing and reinforcement procedures. This research contributed to the re-conceptualization of ASD as a learning difficulty instead of a form of schizophrenia and to legislation that promoted deinstitutionalization and access to special education. The research also demonstrated the importance of scientific treatment studies with precise and objective data collection of specific behaviors in natural environments. Subsequent applied behavior analysis (ABA) studies documented learning styles characteristic of many individuals with ASD and suggested that these styles may represent one end of a continuum with typical development (ideas central to current conceptualizations of ASD). Later, behavior analysts described dramatic improvements as a result of early intensive ABA that incorporated opportunities for inclusion in regular education and active participation from caregivers and peers. This finding led to policy changes that emphasized early identification and treatment. Current challenges include elucidating standards for best practices in ABA, evaluating the effectiveness of large-scale, community-wide ABA programs, and responding to the recent growth in research on treatments other than ABA.

Target Audience: N/a
Learning Objectives: N/a



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