Families cling to hope of autism ‘recovery’

Los Angeles Times:

In 1987, Ivar Lovaas, a charismatic UCLA psychology professor, published what remains the most famous study on the treatment of autism.

Lovaas had broken down the basic skills of life into thousands of drills, such as pointing, identifying colors and reading facial expressions. For 40 hours a week on average, the therapists he trained used rewards and punishments, ranging from food treats to slaps on the thigh, to instill those abilities in 19 autistic youngsters under the age of 4.

When the study began, most of the children didn’t speak and were considered mentally retarded. After a few years, nine of them tested average or above in intelligence and moved on to mainstream first-grade classrooms — a far better outcome than in two control groups.

Lovaas described the children as “recovered.”

Autism, long considered a sentence of lifelong isolation, suddenly had a potential antidote. It was called “applied behavior analysis,” or ABA.

As the diagnosis of autism has exploded, so has demand for ABA, the most commonly recommended treatment. It has become a thriving business, worth more than $200 million a year in California alone.

Read the whole story: Los Angeles Times

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