The Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis is a behavioral treatment model typically started with children between the ages of two and eight. Children typically transition to different services as they progress through elementary school and no later than the age of twelve. While treatment is always based on the principles of applied behavior analysis, its implementation varies based on a child's unique needs.
The Lovaas Model was created as a comprehensive, integrated program in which skills complement and build upon each other. The intervention progresses systematically through stages of learning and emphasizes individualization of curriculum based on each child's strengths and weaknesses.
Children younger than three typically need additional time to adapt to the intensity of therapy. Treatment typically begins at 10-15 hours per week and can gradually increase to 35-40 hours per week by the age of three. Instructors use incidental teaching to take advantage of situations occurring in the natural environment to teach new behaviors. For example, when a child demonstrates interest in a toy, the instructor will prompt the child to request for the toy using an appropriate form of communication. In the beginning, instructors follow a child's lead as much as possible.
Redirection is used as a non-intrusive method to interrupt self-stimulatory or repetitive behaviors. Instructors also build upon a child's initiations, both non-verbal and verbal, no matter how small or subtle. Once a positive learning environment is established for both the child and instructor, more structured time is gradually included. Structured time continues to emphasize effective reinforcers and motivating activities, but also allows for more difficult skills to be taught in a more systematic manner.
Goals for very young learners often include: expansion of communication, emergence of new play skills, development of interactive relationships, more appropriate reaction to sensory input, and development of other pivotal skills such as imitation and requesting.
Based upon the research conducted by Dr. Lovaas, intensity of treatment is a critical factor in a child's progress.
Based upon the research conducted by Dr. Lovaas, intensity of treatment is a critical factor in a child's progress. Therefore, most children between the ages of three and five receive one-to-one instruction for 5-8 hours per day, 5-7 days per week (approximately 35-40 hours per week). While the initial weeks of intervention may look similar to that of very young learners, structured time is typically increased more rapidly. We make the intensity of our program manageable for a child by dividing the day into sessions.
A session usually lasts about 2-4 hours, during which a number of play breaks are included. Typically, a child and instructor work on a specific task for 2-5 minutes and then have a short break (1-2 minutes). Tasks may be practiced in a variety of settings including a structured table time, on the floor, around the house, and even outside. Longer breaks (10-20 minutes) occur every 1-2 hours. During that time, a child and instructor might go outside, play a game, or have a snack. The breaks, both short and long, provide a child with time away from structured teaching, opportunities to initiate requests and play with the instructor, and allow for generalization of new skills to the child's everyday environment. The play breaks are calculated into the total numbers of hours per week.
The teaching schedule is adjusted to the needs of the individual child and it may, for example, include time for an afternoon nap. Skills are taught through a variety of behavioral interventions including: discrete trial teaching (e.g., an instructor says, "Mickey Mouse" the child touches a Mickey doll, the instructor reinforces the behavior), incidental teaching (as explained above for Very Young Children), increasing spontaneity, fluency-based instruction (increasing how quickly a child responds), and peer integration (encouraging relationship development through play dates with peers).
The primary goal of the intervention is for children to learn to learn in the natural environment. Children progress through different phases of programming to accomplish this goal. Early programming emphasizes skills such as imitation, requesting, following simple instructions, and acquiring verbal imitation. Programming advances to teach early abstract concepts and responses to simple questions (initially one-word answers). Further programming emphasizes talking in complete sentences, learning skills more quickly, and beginning to seek out more elaborate interactions with others. Programming develops to a level in which skills are eventually taught in a less formal format, more typical of everyday life. Questions typically require more than one response and more than one answer is possible. The child learns to balance leading play and cooperating with others. Finally, programming evolves to facilitate two of the most important factors in school: learning in a group and making friends.
Ongoing research has indicated behavioral treatment is an effective intervention for children even in later years. While the intervention retains many of the characteristics applied to young children, some modifications are appropriate for older, school-aged children. For example, collaboration with educators and other professionals at school and in the community continues to increase. Treatment may include time for community outings so that skills can be taught or generalized in the setting in which they are meant to be used. Structured time may be increased to thirty-minute periods, similar to the amount of work time required at school. Treatment gains are often generalized to school through the use of a trained 1:1 aide, and the treatment itself may even be carried out at the school itself.
Goals for older children often revolve around improving their quality of life. Important skills include: self help, independent leisure time, functional communication, inclusion at school, participation in family life, community skills, and peer interactions.