Monday, November 9, 2009

ABA Treatment at a Younger Age Leads to Faster Learning

I believe Nicky would not of come this far without intensive ABA intervention.
Nicky is in the category of kids who have "Regressive Autism". In other words,Nicky was developing typically. He was talking, playing, walking and then he suffered a loss of those acquired skills. He had stomach problems, allergies and ear infections since birth, and then he got pneumonia at 20 months. When he was completely recovered from his pneumonia the Nicky we had known was gone. He was replaced by a child who was absent, uninterested in his family and clearly fading away into a world of his own.

Because we were able to get a relatively swift diagnosis Nicky began a form of ABA called Discrete Trial Training at age 2 ( DTT or the Lovas Method), then moved on to the generalization of his skills using ABA techniques and some Pivotal Response. Nicky still needs ABA support today. I am CERTAIN that his intensive ABA program kept his from drifting totally away from us by providing him with a teaching method that made it possible for him to acquire skills and progress. Below, is the latest report on ABA for those of you who think it might be the right intervention for your family.

Higher Intensity of ABA Treatment at a Younger Age Leads to Faster Learning

Researchers at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) found that increasing treatment hours within an early intensive behavioral intervention program resulted in greater efficiency in new skill acquisition. This effect was the strongest in younger children within their study.
In Effects of Age and Treatment Intensity on Behavioral Intervention Outcomes for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, published in the September 2009 edition of Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, CARD researchers Dr. Doreen Granpeesheh, Dr. Dennis R. Dixon, Dr. Jonathan Tarbox, Andrew M. Kaplan, and Arthur E. Wilke found that an increase in treatment hours and a decrease in child age predicted an increase in the number of skills learned per hour of treatment. For example, a child between two to five years old, receiving 150 therapy hours per month would master an average of 54 skills per month. If this same child received only 40 therapy hours per month they would on average master 21 skills per month. This is contrasted to a child between five to seven years, who would master 57 skills per month if given 150 monthly therapy hours. And an average of 15 skills per month if given 40 therapy hours per month.
The 245 participants were selected from a pool of clients receiving behavioral intervention services at a CARD, a nation-wide provider of Applied Behavior Analysis-based treatment programs for children and young adults with ASDs. The participants were between 16 months and 12 years old, received an average of 20 or more hours of intervention per month, and had mastered at least one skill per month. Participants were from California, Arizona, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, and New York.
“While several studies have addressed the association between age and treatment intensity or hours of therapy received, this study is one of only two that used such a large sample of children,” Tarbox said. “Plus, since CARD serves a large number of children across the United States, we were able to investigate questions at a scale that isn’t normally possible. The size and geographic diversity of the study population decreases the likelihood that there are regional biases and increases the likelihood that these outcomes can be generalized across a larger region.
Only one other autism treatment study, based in Canada, included a larger number of participants. It included over 300 children residing in Ontario, Canada.
The study outcomes showed that younger children learned faster than the older children, all other things being equal. It also showed that increases in therapy hours resulted in increases in new learned skills.
“This is what we have suspected all along, but it wasn’t until now that we had data across such a large group of children that really showed it clearly,” Dixon said. “It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this does not mean older kids on the spectrum can’t learn – they certainly can and do – it just means you get a larger effect out of the same dose of behavioral treatment when the treatment is implemented early."
The study also showed no point of diminishing returns as hours were increased. Meaning that 20 hours per week was better than 10, 30 hours per week was better than 20, and 40 was better than 30. The degree of improvement did not decrease as treatment intensity approached 40 hours per week.
“It’s common for therapy programs to max out at 40 hours per week, however, based on our findings the magic number of 40 hours per week may not really be the upper limit at all,” Tarbox said. “We may actually be able to get even better outcomes with a larger intensity of treatment – but of course, more research would be needed before we could make conclusions such as those."


  1. I am still seeing lot's of people just catching up to this story on the news. I find it interesting that the information organizations and professionals have been chanting for years is just getting the "thumbs up". Glad for the confirmation, sorry it took so long.

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  3. Brim over I agree but I dream the brief should have more info then it has.