While much attention has been paid to the young children who made phenomenal progress in early, intensive behavioral treatment, such research does not exhaust the benefits of behavioral treatment. Therapy utilizing applied behavior analysis is primarily meant to improve the quality of life of an individual with autism. This can be accomplished in early childhood, adolescence, and even later in life.
The National Research Council's 2001 report Educating Children with Autism discusses interventions for adolescents and adults. The report points out,
"A number of interventions have demonstrated that adolescents or adults with autism can be taught purchasing skills and other community living skills, such as ordering food in a restaurant (Haring et al., 1987). However, most applications of instruction in community living skills have been developed for children and adults with mental retardation. Daily living skills targeted have ranged from appropriate mealtime behaviors (O'Brien et al., 1972; Wilson et al., 1984), to eating in public places (van den Pol et al., 1981). Proactive approaches to promoting community access include instruction in clothing selection skills (Nutter and Reid, 1978), pedestrian safety (Page et al., 1976), nondisruptive bus riding (Neef et al., 1978), vending machine use (Sprague and Horner, 1984), and coin summation (Lowe and Cuvo, 1976; Miller et al., 1977; Trace et al., 1977). Additionally, procedures for teaching leisure skills have targeted independent walking (Gruber et al., 1979) and soccer (Luyben et al., 1986)."
The vast majority of these interventions are behavioral interventions. Most citations are from the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. In fact, there have been over 70 research articles documenting the use of applied behavior analysis principles to teach new skills to people with autism over the age of five. Most of these studies were not comprehensive programs, but rather focused on one issue (e.g., one skill to develop or one behavior to change). Research shows that applied behavior analysis procedures have also been used effectively in many intervention programs to address the needs of a variety of populations and diagnoses (e.g., teaching children to read, helping adults quit smoking, increasing productivity of a business, etc.).
Below is a list of references for older children (classified as above the age of 5) compiled by Dr. Eric Larsson of the Lovaas Institute, Midwest. The list is not exhaustive:
The names of all children in this newsletter have been changed in respect for family confidentiality.
Hand Grenade! Deliver reinforcers like a hand grenade. Instead of giving an M&M, pretend to send it through the air with a whistling sound until it gets to child's mouth then explodes (i.e. you make an exploding sound). Run from the child and toss the (soft) reinforcer back to them.
Reinforcer Presents! Wrap the reinforcer like a real present. Sustain the anticipation by gradually unwrapping across many trials.
When I first heard about ABA and what a home therapy program entailed, my thought was I certainly don't want to be doing this when Charlie is five years old. That was the summer of 1999 and Charlie, who had just turned two years old, had just been diagnosed with autism.