Monday, January 30, 2012
Dear Mr. Zarembo:
We are writing to you regarding your article entitled, "Families Cling to Hope of Autism Recoveryâ€ (the Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2011). We appreciate your time and effort in highlighting the work of Dr. Lovaas and the larger field of applied behavior analysis. We especially appreciate your advocacy of science as the means to evaluate the effectiveness of any treatment.
While you acknowledge some positive benefits of applied behavior analytic treatment, your emphasis ignores a large body of research indicating that children who receive Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) benefit significantly relative to those children who do not receive EIBI. We ourselves acknowledge that there are gaps in the science of autism treatment, including EIBI; however, we respectfully disagree with your presentation of the outcomes. We are unaware of other treatment protocols that have been studied and replicated to the same degree as EIBI. Unfortunately, many other treatments are marketed as "cures" without evidence of benefit. As such, EIBI represents best practices for people with autism. While you rely on the AHRQ report in your article, we wish you had also highlighted that treatments based on the principles of applied behavior analysis have been endorsed by the U.S. Surgeon General,1 National Institutes of Health,2 the National Research Council,3 the National Standards Report4 published by the National Autism Center, and others. 5Although we agree that additional research is needed to develop and refine EIBI and other science-based approaches, your article leads readers to conclude that the high cost and burden of a forty hour-a-week requirement to replicate the positive outcomes from the scientific literature is too high a cost for society. We advocate for research funding to identify aspects of treatment that are most important for improving function. Until that time, though, children with autism deserve access to high quality treatments based on our current understanding of science.
The science of applied behavior analysis and its application to autism treatment are often portrayed inaccurately in the media. Unfortunately, we believe your story contributes to further misunderstanding and misconception. The potential risk is that caregivers will delay pursuing empirically-supported, effective treatment. We suggest that rather than advocate denial of effective autism treatment, we should acknowledge the true state of science in autism intervention and advocate for access to effective treatment by families. It is important for parents and caregivers to access accurate information regarding autism treatments so that they may make wise decisions for their children. For more information, please visit http://www.asatonline.org/resources/autismtreatments.htm.
Sabrina Freeman, Ph.D.
Board Member, Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Florence D. DiGennaro Reed, Ph.D., BCBA-D
Secretary, Association for Science in Autism Treatment
1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1999). Mental health: A report of the surgeon general. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health.
2Strock, M. (2004). Autism spectrum disorders (pervasive developmental disorders). NIH Publication No. NIH-04-5511. National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, 40 pp. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/autism.cfm
3National Research Council (2001). Educating children with autism. Committee on Educational Interventions for Children with Autism, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
4National Autism Center (2009). National Standards Report. Randolph, MA: National Autism Center.
5New York State Department of Health (1999). Clinical practice guideline: Report of the recommendations. Autism/pervasive developmental disorders, assessment and intervention for young children (age 0-3 years). Albany, NY: NYS Early Intervention Program.