Friday, August 6. 2010
Los Angeles, CA, August 6, 2010 – O. Ivar Lovaas, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA, a pioneer in the research and development of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy to treat children with autism, and the founder of the Lovaas Institute, died on August 2nd at age 83.
The publication of Dr. Lovaas's landmark study in 1987 demonstrated that nearly half of children with autism who received early, intensive behavioral therapy achieved normal-range IQ scores and were able to attend regular education classrooms by the end of first grade without the help of an aide. Many of those children in the study who did not achieve optimal results still demonstrated marked improvement. This study paved the way to the development of practical, effective therapy based on the collection of objective, measurable data, in contrast to earlier treatment which had been based on theories unsupported by scientific research. Since that time, his work has been validated by independent treatment sites which achieved comparable outcomes when they were trained in his methods.
In the late 1950's, as he was completing his post- doctoral work at the Child Development Institute (CDI) at University of Washington with fellow students Sid Bijou and Don Baer, Dr. Lovaas made the observation that,
“All the children appeared happy and normal except for a little girl who did not make eye contact, did not talk or play with toys, spending the day rocking her body and flapping her hands and behaved as if others were not present. I feared that she would not get better with the psychological treatments provided at that time, but instead would end up in a state hospital where she would remain until she died. She had many of the behaviors, which would indicate autism, but the diagnosis was not reliable that far back.”
This began his search for effective treatments for autism, which could best be determined by rigorous research. The treatment he developed focused on observed behaviors rather than underlying neurosis and emphasized environmental consequences, and especially the use of reinforcement, to teach new, more appropriate behaviors. In 1961, Dr. Lovaas joined the UCLA psychology department and used his early research and success at the CDI to formulate a comprehensive therapeutic and educational approach to treatment which grew into the Lovaas Model of Applied Behavior Analysis.
Dr. Lovaas devoted his career of nearly fifty years to improving the lives of children with autism. He founded the Lovaas Institute in 1995 to serve the rapidly expanding demand for treatment which arose from his research clinic at UCLA. Dr. Lovaas was a director, president, and the clinical director of the Institute, which continues to provide treatment to children with autism and consultation to school districts attempting to cope with the increasing need for effective special education for children on the autism spectrum. In recent years, Dr. Lovaas assumed an advisory role at the Institute, which now provides services across the country, with offices on both coasts and the Midwest and with affiliates in several countries abroad. Dr. Lovaas’ research and methods will be continued by the Institute through its current board members, including his wife, Nina Lovaas, University of Rochester associate professor, Dr. Tristram Smith, who earned his Ph.D. from UCLA under Dr. Lovaas, and Scott and Linda Wright, who were students of Dr. Lovaas at UCLA. The Lovaas Institute is committed to providing the highest quality treatment available to children diagnosed with autism or related disorders.
When interviewed several years ago about how he would like to be remembered, Dr. Lovaas said,
“I would like to be remembered in the tradition of other empiricists and educators who put a good deal of faith in the power of the environment to shape human behavior. I’d like to be remembered as one who worked to free those whose minds enslaved them…and as a person who challenged the notion that variables that we used to consider to be stable and unchanging, like IQ and autism, aren’t really as unchanging as many had thought them to be.”
Dr. Lovaas was born in 1927 in Lier, Norway, a small agricultural village outside of Oslo. His father was a journalist at the local newspaper and his mother was the daughter of a tenant farmer. Dr. Lovaas is survived by his wife, Nina, and his four children, daughters Randi, Lisa, and Kari, and son, Erik, who follows his father's methods in his own clinic in Nevada.
A memorial service will be held in the coming weeks. A memorial scholarship fund is also in development. More details will be posted on the Lovaas Institute website: www.lovaas.com. To inquire further or to contribute a special message, please e-mail memorial@Lovaas.com