Thank You, Ivar

It was 2006 in Algiers and I was meeting with a small group of parents of children with autism, prior to a larger lecture on applied behavior analysis (ABA) and autism. I struggled, unsuccessfully, to understand the parents' questions in French, but one word was clear: "Lovaas." These parents knew his work and shared the hope it gave them. This situation was to be repeated, for me, in several other languages, including Chinese, Romanian, Portuguese, German, and Arabic. Parents around the world knew that Dr.
Lovaas was their starting point and ABA was what they wanted for their children.

Starting with his 1987 paper (Lovaas, 1987) and the subsequent popularization by Catherine Maurice (1993), parents came to know that if you started early, intervened intensively, and used ABA, there was hope to regain their lost child. This was a remarkable promise because before Lovaas, there was little other than despair. In my 40 years in the field, nothing has been as moving to me as a tearful parent saying, "I have my child back," after intensive ABA therapy.

Lovaas was not the first to use ABA with children with autism. But, where others worked on a few response classes, he worked on the entire behavior repertoire. However, his early work in the 1960s produced tremendous behavioral gains, which were only to be lost when intensive intervention ended. But, to his great credit, he persisted until he was able to delineate the conditions under which these immense gains would be maintained. He was able to show in his 1987 paper that some children could achieve normal functioning and advance with their same-age peers when the intense intervention with ABA was begun at a very early age and continued until a high level of functioning was attained.

Besides this remarkable achievement, Lovaas should be credited with publishing in a mainstream clinical psychology journal. To do so, it was necessary to use a group design and use dependent variables, which behaviorists are not inclined to employ. Without having done so, however, it is unlikely that other fields would have paid much attention to his results. Although nonbehavioral critics still found many faults with his study, he presented the data in a form that did not allow them to raise the issue of single-subject design.

Lovaas was generous with the knowledge he had acquired. Shortly after his 1987 paper appeared, my business partner Brenda Terzich and I met with him at UCLA and he explained his methods and even sent one of his graduate students, Annette Groen, to teach us the parameters of his discrete trial methodology. Many of us in the ABA service-delivery field make use of other ABA technologies, such as PECS (Frost & Bondy, 2002), Tag Teaching (Pryor, 2009), programmed generalization procedures (Terzich, 2009), and the like. However, our starting point continues to be discrete trials methodology as developed by Lovaas.

Lovaas's work and the continuing increase in the frequency of the autism diagnosis have been the impetus for a growing ABA industry. In California alone, there must be close to 100 companies that claim to be doing ABA with children with autism. Some employ only a few ,and some have as many as 500. Some are direct replications of the Lovaas methodology, some are doing poor imitations of his work, and some are integrating other ABA methods with his work. But clearly, the Lovaas methodology is the starting point.

The development of this industry has been correlated with the creation of the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) by Jerry Shook and others. This Board has created two certificates, the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and the Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst (BCaBA). Although their status is in flux at the moment, the strong impetus is for funding agencies to recognize this certification as the basis for supporting programs supervised by the holder of the certification. The Board has created a curriculum and an examination, both of which must be taken and passed by an individual to become certified. Both not only contain ABA issues but also clearly require familiarity with behavior analysis as well as radical behaviorism. Currently there are more than 171 universities offering the curriculum (25 outside the United States) and more than, 8,000 persons holding the certification (250 outside the United States; Shook, 2010, personal communication). Our field is being accepted and sought, here and internationally. Parents and other professionals view our field with a respect and recognition that was not extant 25 years ago.

With the immensity of this development, it is easy to lose track of where this growth began. I would argue it began with Lovaas. Without his work there would have been nothing for Catherine Maurice to popularize, no intense demand for persons to apply ABA to children with autism, and certainly less demand for an independent certification process. And, I believe, there would ultimately have been less appreciation and acceptance of our field.

For all this I would like to say, on behalf of the behavioral community,
thank you, Ivar.
Frost , L., & Bondy, A. (2002). The Picture Exchange Communication System. Newark, NJ: Pyramid Educational Products.
Lovaas , I. (1987). Behavioral treatment and normal educational and intellectual functioning in young autistic children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 55, 3-9
Maurice , C. (1993). Let me hear your voice: A family's triumph over autism. New York: Fawcett.
Pryor, K. (2009). Reaching the animal mind. New York: Scribner.
Ter zich , B. (1999). Generalization within early intervention programs for children with autism: A conceptual synthesis. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Chicago.