Autism Reality

Autism & ABA, For Conor It All Adds Up

I have commented previously about how ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, has been such a positive and effective means of communicating with Conor, teaching him to communicate, teaching him to read, and controlling and reducing problem behavior, notwithstanding the challenges that remain. By problem behavior I mean self aggression and self injurious behavior as well as property damage and aggression to others. Another area of skill development for Conor has been math. Conor loves his numbers and he is learning and loves to demonstrate his math skills as shown in these pictures. The pictures on this comment show skills, including patience and task accomplishment, in addition to adding things up correctly, that would have been unimaginable prior to ABA. If parents with newly diagnosed children do not wish to believe the hundreds of studies documenting the effectiveness of ABA as an intervention for autistic children then take a look at these pictures. This is not a “robotic” child being forced to perform by an abusive methodology. This is my son relaxing on the holiday and enjoying a past time. If you think he has been been deprived of his personality because of exposure to ABA look at the pictures of my laughing joyous son on this blog site. He has an infectious personality and he has been loved by many therapists who have worked with him and other people who meet him in our daily lives.

Do not listen to the ideologues who oppose ABA and minimize the wealth of professional literature supporting its effectiveness. And do not listen to them when they say ABA deprives children of their personalities. There is no professional literature to support these allegations and the experiences of too many autistic children and their families say otherwise. Michelle Dawson, Laurent Mottron, Jim Sinclair and other anti-ABA ideologues do not speak for my son. He speaks for himself. And when it comes to ABA Conor can add it all up for himself as he does in these pictures. In his actions, in his exercise of skills he has learned, in his joyful demeanor, Conor speaks for himself and he puts the boot to these tired anti-ABA careerists.

May 21, 2007 Posted by | Applied Behavior Analysis, autism disorder, autism interventions, Conor Doherty, Jim Sinclair, Laurnet Mottron, Michelle Dawson, neurodiversity | 2 Comments

Autism Interventions Ranked – EIBI (ABA) Best – Facilitated Communication Worst

A list of autism intervention rankings by Research Autism, a UK charity, is available online at:

Research Autism in its own words:

Research Autism is the only UK charity exclusively dedicated to research into interventions in autism .

Established in 2003 as the Autism Intervention Research Trust, we commission, carry out and support high quality, independent research into new and existing health, education, social and other interventions. Our goal is the improvement of quality of life and outlook, for the individuals affected and those around them.

We have the active support of some of the world’s leading figures in autism and research. They have given freely of their time and expertise to work with us. We also work closely with our research sponsor, the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, as well as with the National Autistic Society.

Not surprisingly, Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention (ABA) received the highest ranking and Facilitated Communication received the worst ranking amongst the numerous interventions ranked. I say not surprisingly because those rankings are consistent with other professional and academic reviews of the efficacy of autism interventions.

EIBI received 3 green check marks indicating Very strong, positive evidence * 2 or more Grade A studies or * 1 Grade A study and 3 or more Grade B studies. The majority of these studies show significant positive effects

Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention(Back)

Ranking :
[Very strong positive evidence]
Type : Behavioural

This is a highly structured and intense intervention in which a child is taught a range of skills by a team of therapists.

The therapists break down the skills into small tasks that are achievable and taught in a very structured manner.

Desired behaviour, such as use of language or socialisation is positively reinforced and accompanied by lots of praise. Negative behaviour, such as self harm or aggression is ignored or punished.

* There is strong evidence to suggest that EIBI programmes are effective for many children with autism.

* However, individual response to treatment is variable and these programmes do not result in improvements in all areas of functioning.

* For some children, alternative interventions, such as specialist pre-school placements may produce comparable results and may offer greater opportunity for interactions with peers.

* If EIBI is undertaken, the possible impact on parents (in terms of time, finances, organisation involvement with other siblings) should be considered.

Also not surprising, Facilitated Communication received the worst ranking of any of the interventions assessed – 3 X’s – Very strong negative evidence. * More than 1 Grade A study showing no significant positive effects or * 3 or more Grade B studies showing no significant positive effects or * 1 Grade A study plus more than 2 Grade B studies showing no significant effects.

In addition to 3 X’s; FC also received 3 question marks indicating Very strong evidence of harmful effects. Any Grade A or B studies indicating adverse/harmful effects.

Facilitated communication is designed to help people with limited communication develop their pointing skills.

Someone else physically supports the the individual so that he can point to pictures, symbols, letters and/or words.

By doing this, the individual can demonstrate what he wants to communicate.

There is a significant body of evidence to show facilitated communication is ineffective when used with people with autistic spectrum disorders.

There is also evidence it can lead to significant harm.

For these reasons we do not believe that it is an appropriate intervention for people with autistic spectrum disorders.

May 16, 2007 Posted by | autism disorder, autism interventions, National Autistic Society, Research Autism | Leave a comment

Autism in Canada – MP’s Fail Autistic Children

Published Tuesday May 1st, 2007
Appeared on page A4

MPs fail autistic children

Ottawa does occasionally take action… just not for our autistic children.

It has been over five months since the House of Commons passed a motion (by a vote of 231-45) calling on the Government of Canada to create a National Autism Strategy. M-172 from Andy Scott, Liberal M.P. for Fredericton requires the federal government to work in co-operation with the provinces and territories to establish national standards for treatment and delivery of services, study funding arrangements, create a national surveillance program, and provide more funding for health research on autism. Andy Scott along with Peter Stoffer, NDP M.P. for Sackville-Eastern Shore have both blasted the federal government for not providing funding in the 2007 budget to help families with autistic children.

It has also been over a month now that the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has released its report on the funding for the treatment of autism: “Pay now or pay later: autism families in crises.” Senator Art Eggleton will move that the Senate request a complete and detailed response from the government, with the ministers of National Revenue, Intergovernmental Affairs, Health and Finance being identified as ministers responsible for responding to the report.

With the proper support structures in place now, autistic children will have the greatest chance to reach full potential.

The cost to society for inaction will be enormous.



May 2, 2007 Posted by | Andy Scott, autism disorder, autism interventions, Autism Society Canada, Peter Stoffer, Senate Autism Report | 1 Comment

Autism Connections Fredericton Grand Opening Photos

Yesterday was the grand opening of the Connexions Autisme/Autism Connections Fredericton resource center. Premier Shawn Graham and Fredericton MP Andy Scott, along with some young helpers, did the official ribbon cutting as shown in these photos. Also shown is Lana Thomson of Autism Connections Fredericton. The place was packed and the opening lasted for two hours with opportunity to talk with a wide range of people in the Fredericton area interested in autism issues and helping autistic children. The resource centre, as the pictures show, is in the same location, side by side with Service d’Intervention Autisme/Autism Intervention Services the agency run by SLP Danielle Pelletier. Fredericton’s pre-school autistic children will be well served by Autism Intervention Services and Autism Connections efforts. Yours truly is also shown talking with Danielle.

May 1, 2007 Posted by | Andy Scott, autism awareness, autism disorder, autism interventions, autism resource center, Fredericton, Premier Shawn Graham | Leave a comment

The Face of Autism – Loss of funding spells loss of skills

The Daily Gleaner/David Smith ph

I have on previous comments applauded New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and the Liberal government for its promise to train 100 TA’s and Resource Teachers a year at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program. Some TA’s and teachers have already received the training but the commitment made during the election campaign by Mr. Graham is being held up now and, it appears at least, that the commitment is in serious danger of being abandoned or watered down beyond recognition, replaced by in house training by the Department or some other “innovative” alternative. While we remain hopeful that the pledge will be honored we are aware of positioning by the Department of Education officials that would see training of much less quality and integrity than the UNB-CEL program offered by the Department. The attached article from the Daily Gleaner here in Fredericton New Brunswick illustrates the predicament faced by autistic children who have been receiving intervention when the turn five years of age in New Brunswick.

Loss of funding spells loss of skills

Published Monday April 23rd, 2007
Appeared on page A1

Tying shoes is a simple task for most eight year olds.

But for Austin O’Donnell, it takes a little more practice.

Austin is autistic, and through intervention therapy, he learns many skills that don’t come easily to him.

Just tying his shoes was broken down into 25 steps to make the task easier for him to remember.

But without continuing the therapy, his mother Jennifer O’Donnell worries Austin may lose some of the skills he worked so hard to acquire.

The government funds an intervention program for preschool-aged autistic children.

Applied behavioral analysis intervention therapy is the most popular and most successful therapy for autistic children. It’s not a cure for autism, but it helps children reach their maximum potential.

But once the child enters kindergarten, the funding stops. But that doesn’t mean the intervention should stop too, said O’Donnell.

That means big money for parents who have to hire the intervention workers themselves.

For the last three years, O’Donnell has organized a benefit dance to try to raise enough money to be able to hire an intervention worker to spend time with Austin every week.

“There are no resources,” she said. “I’m a single parent. I’ve worked two jobs and held the benefit dance for the last three years to split the bill financially. And I’m willing to do that.

“If I don’t fund raise, he simply won’t have it. To me, that’s just not an option. I’m hoping at some point that there’s going to be a change, where (the government) provides some funding.”

Austin was diagnosed with autism when he was four, so he only took advantage of the therapy for eight months before the money stopped.

“I knew the funding would be cut when he entered school,” she said. “I knew that in my mind, but it didn’t really hit me that there was nothing. And, when it happened, I just thought quickly, how can I raise money to continue this?”

The dance usually helps fund about eight to 10 months of intervention therapy.

Most autistic children have a teacher’s assistant in the classroom. But they’re not all trained for autism intervention.

Harold Doherty is with the Autism Society of New Brunswick. His 11-year-old son Conor is autistic.

He said it’s important that the intervention therapy follows the children into the schools.

One way of doing that, he said, is training the teacher’s assistants (TAs) to be qualified to do autism intervention.

“We’re pushing to get the TAs trained,” he said. “If you’re going to have a TA anyway, that you need in most cases, why not train them in some way to be effective to help the children learn?”

There is a course at the University of New Brunswick that trains resource teachers and teacher’s assistants in autism intervention.

Doherty said the Liberal government promised that it would train 100 teacher’s assistants and resource teachers at UNB per year for four years.

This would help autistic children have a chance to have a trained teacher’s assistant.

Yet, Doherty said, there still hasn’t been any move on the promise, and the autism society is worried the government is stepping back, or planning on watering down the promise.

But O’Donnell can’t wait for the teacher’s assistants to be able to take over the intervention work. Austin needs the help now, she said.

“He’s beginning to get to an age where he’s struggling socially,” she said.

“And that’s a big deal because if he’s having troubles at school in that way, then it’s causing a whole other can of worms.

Loss of funding spells loss of skills

“Not wanting to be at school, and being upset all the time, and not really understanding why he doesn’t have friends or why he has such a hard time keeping friends. We’ve been working on that for the last year.”

O’Donnell works with her son on evenings and weekends at home, but she said he needs more intervention time than that.

She said every little bit of therapy can help her son in big ways.

The benefit dance will be held Saturday, April 28, at the Tier II Lounge, above Winners Restaurant on the exhibition grounds at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Mazzuca’s on York Street.

April 23, 2007 Posted by | applied behavioral analysis, autism education, autism interventions, Education Minister Kelly Lamrock, election promises, Premier Shawn Graham, resource teachers, teachers aides | 2 Comments

Vancouver Sun – The Many Faces of Autism

One fundamental point which is repeatedly ignored in discussions, debates and arguments over autism is that “autism” as discussed in the media is a spectrum of disorders which includes autism disorder and other related disorders eg. PDD-NOS, Aspergers. There are many faces of autism, many different characteristics. The Vancouver Sun has published a balanced and understandable overview of autism disorders and promises to present a series of stories portraying different aspects of the spectrum of autism realities.

To understand the many faces of autism, first consider what it is not

Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun

Published: Saturday, April 21, 2007


Simply put, there is no one profile that fits those diagnosed with autism. So, to define what autism is, it might be best by pointing out what it is not.


It is a neurological and, ultimately, a biological disorder that affects the normal development of the brain in areas of social interaction, communication and sometimes cognitive skills. Usually, that disorder manifests itself before the child reaches three. (More on those symptoms and their diagnosis in a later instalment.)




It is a spectrum of disorders. On that spectrum are five related disorders, the three most common of these being classic autistic disorder (AD), pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome. They share some behaviours but not others. Those with AD, for example, are often withdrawn and can be completely non-verbal, while those diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome can have normal verbal and academic skills but have extreme difficulty interacting socially with others.


Some have below-average intelligence, some are average and some are above average.

Additionally, mental abilities can be uneven. A person on the autism spectrum might be able to do complex math but be unable to tie his or her own shoes.

Some are capable of holding jobs and of living independently or semi-independently; some have the intellectual capacity to work but not the social skills to make their way in the work environment; some must receive 24-hour care their entire lives.


It is a life-long condition. As one parent of a 12-year-old girl diagnosed with severe autism said:

“Parents have to understand:

“This isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.”

The initial symptoms, however, can be ameliorated through a combination of intensive early childhood therapy and, it has to be said, the fierce and protective love of parents and family.

See for more from the six-day special feature


The story of a severe case, and life at home with an autistic child.


Two mothers, their tears, and the sacrifices they must make living with autism.


How the health care system discriminates against those on low income.


Immigrants and the special challenges they face in dealing with autism.


The high cost of therapy, and a mother’s determination.


Two autistic teens and their families face an uncertain future.”

April 21, 2007 Posted by | Aspergers' Syndrome, autism awareness, autism disorder, autism interventions, behavioral intervention, PDD-NOS, the rain man, vancouver sun | Leave a comment

Evidence Based Autism Interventions

The expression “evidence based” is often encountered in discussion of autism treatments or interventions. Parents, government officials, professionals and researchers will use the expression when discussing the effectiveness of various interventions in treating or curing autism. A well known article in the Journal of the Australian Medical Association, linked on the sidebar of this blog site, is entitled “Autistic Children Deserve Evidence Based Intervention“. But what does the expression “evidence based” mean and which autism interventions, if any, meet the evidence based standard?

It is important for parents and political decision makers trying to determine what interventions to provide autistic persons to understand the concept of “evidence based” interventions. There have been many quack autism interventions offered both by self promoters and wishful thinkers. Such interventions waste valuable development time of autistic children, waste family and government funds, and in some cases, actually cause direct harm. Unfortunately there have also been those who are opposed to curing or treating autistic persons, those who wish to promote alternative interventions, or who wish to avoid expending public resources to provide treatment, who attack Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) despite the quality and quantity of research supporting the efficacy of ABA as a health and education intervention for autistic children.

CAIRN, the Canadian Autism Intervention Network, defines “evidence based”:

By evidence-based, we mean the best available information based on scientifically rigorous research that produces consistent findings no matter how many times the study is repeated.

CAIRN also notes that there are substantial differences in the quality of evidence. It lists on its web site the characteristics of studies that provide high quality evidence.

Systematic reviews
A systematic review uses a clear and systematic method of finding and appraising relevant, high quality research studies whose combined results are used to answer a pre-determined question about treatment.

The strength of the systematic review is in its ability to combine data from studies of different populations in different settings to show if a treatment is widely applicable. By pooling data from patients in a number of studies, thus increasing the sample size, a systematic review can increase the reliability of the findings, showing whether a treatment actually works or may be useless or even harmful.

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs)
In RCTs, research subjects are randomly placed in one of two groups. One group receives the intervention that the study has been designed to measure; the other group (known as the control group) does not. The control group may receive a placebo, no treatment, or another therapy. Study participants (and ideally, the researchers) do not know to which group they have been assigned.

RCTs are considered the second strongest level of evidence for the effectiveness of a treatment. The strength of the RCT is that it helps ensure that the two groups under study do not have any important differences between them that could influence whether or not the treatment they receive works.

Controlled clinical trials (CCTs)
In a controlled clinical trial, one group receives a therapy and the other (control group) does not. As in RCTs, the control group may receive a placebo, no treatment, or another therapy. Unlike RCTs, however, the participants are not randomly assigned to each group.

With some populations, or in some situations, it is not possible to randomly assign participants to one group or another. CCTs still use a comparison group and efforts are made to ensure that the two groups do not have serious differences between them that could influence the results of the study.

Multiple and single case studies
In multiple and single case studies, subjects are tested to establish a baseline. They are then given an intervention, after which they are re-tested to determine what change, if any, has occurred.

Sometimes, especially when there is great variability in a condition, or small numbers of people with a condition, it is not possible to conduct research with two groups. In multiple and single case studies, the participants are used as their own comparison when they are given alternating treatments, or a treatment and then no treatment. Although not providing the same strength of evidence as an RCT or CCT, when done rigorously, these studies can yield valuable information about treatments.

In its February 2000 (Rev.) Autism Task Force Report the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities (MADSEC) reported the results of its thorough review of the professional literature on educational interventions for autism. The MADSEC Task Force also interviewed leading practicioners of various autism interventions. It concluded that only one intervention met the standard of being an evidence based effective autism intervention – ABA.

• Substantiated as effective based upon the scope and quality of research:
Applied behavior analysis. In addition, applied behavior analysis’ evaluative procedures are effective not only with behaviorally-based interventions, but also for the systematic evaluation of the efficacy of any intervention intended to affect individual learning and behavior. ABA’s emphasis on functional assessment and positive behavioral support will help meet heightened standards of IDEA ‘97. Its emphasis on measurable goals and reliable data collection will substantiate the child’s progress in the event of due process.


There is a wealth of validated and peer-reviewed studies supporting the efficacy of ABA methods to improve and sustain socially significant behaviors in every domain, in individuals with autism. Importantly, results reported include “meaningful” outcomes such as increased social skills, communication skills academic performance, and overall cognitive functioning. These reflect clinically-significant quality of life improvements. While studies varied as to the magnitude of gains, all have demonstrated long term retention of gains made. Other major contributions of ABA to the education and treatment of individuals with autism include:

• a large number of empirically-based systematic instruction methods that lead to the
acquisition of skills, and to the decrease/elimination of aberrant behaviors;
• a technology for systematically evaluating the efficacy of interventions intended to affect individual learning and behavior; and
• substantial cost/benefit.
Over 30 years of rigorous research and peer review of applied behavior analysis’ effectiveness for individuals with autism demonstrate ABA has been objectively substantiated as effective based upon the scope and quality of science.

Since the publication of the MADSEC Autism Task Force Report there have been more studies confirming ABA as the most effective autism intervention. In “A comparison of intensive behavior analytic and eclectic treatments for young children with autism” published in Research in Developmental Disabilities, 26, (2005), pp. 359-383, the authors, Jane S. Howard, Coleen R. Sparkman, Howard G. Cohen, Gina Green, Harold Stanislaw reported the results of a non randomized comparison trial with three intervention groups of children with autism spectrum disorders. 29 children received one-on-one intensive behavioral therapy for 25 to 40 hours per week (IBT group); 16 received eclectic therapy (multiple treatment methods) with a teacher to student ratio of 1:1 or 1:2 for 30 hours per week (AP group); and 16 received a non-intensive, eclectic, small group, public early intervention program for 15 hours per week (GP group.) The study’s authors reported that 14 months after initiation of the interventions, the intensive behavioral therapy group scored significantly higher on all measures, with the exception of motor skills, where there was no difference among groups.

Alan Harchik, senior Vice President with the May Institute, has written an excellent article on the topic of evidence based interventions. Mr. Harchik describes evidence based standards and cautions against the use of the many treatments and interventions for autism that do not meet that standard including sensory integration, facilitated communication, auditory integration, chelation and hyperbaric oxygen treatments.

The term evidence-based practice is frequently used in the fields of science and medicine. It refers to procedures that have been tested using scientific research methods and shown to be most likely to produce positive results. This means that objective studies have been conducted using reliable data collection methods, consistent implementation of the treatments and the careful control of the research conditions.

The research findings are then published in professional journals after review by a panel of experts in the field.

Mr. Harchik, like the MADSEC Autism Task Force Report, concludes that ABA is the intervention with the most evidence supporting its effectiveness.

For children with autism, the procedures that have the most evidence supporting their effectiveness are those that use applied behavior analysis. …. applied behavior analysis methods include an assessment of the factors that are impeding learning or maintaining behavior problems, using positive rewards, teaching in small steps, using prompts and guidance, and collecting data to monitor progress.

The studies and expertise which provide evidence of the efficacy of ABA in autism intervention have not persuaded some who oppose the use of ABA interventions with autistic persons. Some will continue to insist on an unattainable standard being met before they will acknowledge the efficacy of ABA. For others though, for parents, professionals and government decision makers seeking to help autistic children now ABA, their only agenda is to find out what works, what really works, based on the best available evidence. To date, ABA is the only intervention for which claims of efficacy meet the high quality evidence based standard. That is why parents and sincere autism advocates try to obtain passage of legislation in Canada and the United States to ensure the availability of ABA treatment for autistic children.

March 10, 2007 Posted by | applied behavioral analysis, autism, autism interventions, evidence based, Harchik, MADSEC, May Institute | 6 Comments

Dear Conservative MP’s – Please Vote FOR Autistic Children

M. Allen, B. Casey, G. Keddy
P. Mackay,R. Moore, G. Thompson
F. Manning, L.Hearn

Dear Honourable Members of Parliament

As Conservative Members of Parliament you will probably be directed to vote NO to Charlottetown Liberal MP Shawn Murphy’s private member’s motion calling for a National Autism Strategy including amendments to the Canada Health Act to help ensure that, regardless of where they live in Canada, autistic children will have access to government funded early interventions which are evidence based and proven effective in dramatically improving their lives. Senior members of your party have indicated that constitutional jurisdiction precludes endorsing this proposal. With respect, I think you all know differently. Cooperative federalism has long ago rid this country of self imposed timidity in the face of challenges which although originating in fields within provincial jurisdiction reach across provincial boundaries and abilities limit all Canadians. Without cooperative federalism there would be no Canada Health Act to begin with and Atlantic Canada would look much different today and not for the better.

The truth is that 1 in 150 children in YOUR riding, based on Center for Disease Controls most recent estimates, have some form of autism spectrum disorder. Autism, despite movies about individuals who have accomplished great feats, is, for most persons with autism, a debilitating disorder marked by very limited communication skills, aggressive , even life threatening, self injurious behaviour and a life of institutional care. Many of the 1 in 150 children with autism disorder in your riding will be confronted by these realities.

I have a son with classic autism disorder who is described by his pediatrician as profoundly autistic but I choose to speak of some of these painful realities because I believe that his life and others like him can be improved dramatically by facing these realities and providing evidence based treatment and education. Hugs are good, but hugs are not enough. Kind words are appreciated but kind words work no miracles. Evidence based interventions, supported by literally hundreds of serious studies, will dramatically improve the lives of the autistic children in your riding. But such intervention is expensive and requires government funded assistance to ensure that all children receive this medically necessary help.

Although your party will undoubtedly instruct you to vote no, I ask you to vote your conscience on Shawn Murphy’s national autism strategy motion. Atlantic Canadian conservatives have historically shown both independence of thought and action and a keen social conscience. From Robert Stanfield to Richard Hatfield Atlantic conservatives have not been reluctant to help those who most needed help. I ask you to consider that tradition of social conscience and help the autistic children in your riding by voting YES to Shawn Murphy’s private member’s motion for a National Autism Strategy and amendments to the Canada Health Act.


Harold L Doherty
Fredericton NB
Conor’s Dad

February 17, 2007 Posted by | Applied Behavior Analysis, autism, autism disorder, autism interventions, Canada Health Act, national autism strategy, Shawn Murphy | Leave a comment