Rationale for Beyond ABA: Interventions for ASD
This artifact is a powerpoint and written summary of a presentation I was asked to give to my peers in Educ 640 (Special topics: Focus on Autism Spectrum Disorder) in order to analyze a chapter in the assigned course text and introduce a journal article that would expand on or offer a different perspective on the chapter topic.
Hall claims to focus on “programs and practices that are influenced by the developmental, social-relational, transactional, and cultural theories” in chapter six (Hall, 2018, p. v). However, I would argue that the article I presented on outdoor adventure therapy (Zachor et al., 2017) provided the basis for a robust discussion of theoretical perspectives that are under-represented in Hall’s text. Even the chapter meant to include non-ABA interventions influenced by other theoretical perspectives still centered around interventions influenced by behaviourism.
Behaviourism has been largely transcended in mainstream education because this learning theory does not account for the role observational learning, cognition, emotion, insight, etc can play in ensuring that learning is not just a set of surface level behavioural associations that fade when the reward or punishment is no longer consistent (Hunt & Chalmers, 2013). This artifact reveals my awareness that behaviourist approaches that cause students to become extrinsically motivated instead of intrinsically motivated have been critiqued because they may damage students’ long-term motivation to engage in learning by and for themselves (Hunt & Chalmers, 2013).
This artifact demonstrates my ability to critically engage with text, research and discussions which probe the relationship between the theoretical influences and evidence base of a variety of interventions available to support the social development of young people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In this artifact, I question why the evidence-based practices promoted for use with children with ASD are dominated by behaviourist interventions, while all of the early childhood education (ECE) opportunities my neurotypical child has benefitted from embody social constructivist and developmental theories. In so doing, this artifact demonstrates my ongoing commitment to equity. It also shows how my willingness to make connections between my lived experience and my graduate studies has enabled the development of a nuanced understanding of the relationships between theory, research and practice. For example, I pointed out that one reason why ABA interventions may have more evidence accumulated in their favour is because as an integral part of Lovaas’ applied behaviour analysis Antecedent – Behaviour – Consequence (ABC) strategy itself, data is collected in a way that is not often intrinsic to interventions that are rooted in other theoretical foundations. The current requirements for an intervention to qualify as an evidence-based practice may take more time and funding for non-ABA interventions to meet, which is more difficult when currently only ABA techniques are funded and covered by insurance in the USA.
I have become aware of negative opinions of ABA held by some people with ASD (Devita-Raeburn, E., 2016; Kedar, 2019). Going forward, I would be curious to read literature reviews that examine the benefits and limitations of popular ECE programs for children with ASD. For example, have preschools that are more influenced by Montessori, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bandura than Skinner been proven ineffective in helping students with ASD develop social communication, social cognition, social motivation and interpersonal relationships? Or have they just not been constructed in a truly universal way, which allows for inclusive, differentiated learning opportunities that also meets the needs of learners with ASD? Have behaviourist approaches proven to be more effective than constructivist approaches in experimental studies measuring these Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS) subdomains, or only in modifying ASD symptoms of restricted and repetitive mannerisms? I think we need to be careful not to confuse education as enforcing normativity instead of working to meet the need of neuro-diverse students to learn a way to communicate and socialize that works for them.
I would like to investigate current literature on the perceptions of people with ASD themselves compared to their caregivers as to the effectiveness and value of ABA in facilitating their long-term quality of life. I would like to read more of Ido Kedar’s work, including his books, Ido in Autismland: Climbing out of Autism’s Silent Prison and In Two Worlds.
If we are concerned that behaviourist teachers ignore and reduce the free will of neurotypical learners when they assume their students are a passive “blank canvas” and use more authoritarian and teacher-directed instructional practices such as learning by rote, I think we should be even more wary of exclusively offering young and vulnerable learners with ASD more concentrated, intensive practices associated with this theory. At the very least we need to ensure adults with ASD who have learned how to communicate have a chance to speak on behalf of those who cannot yet speak for themselves.
Kedar, I. (2019, August 27). The Autism Experience Challenge. Ido in Autismland. Accessed at:
Devita-Raeburn, E. (2016, August 11). The controversy over autism’s most common therapy. Spectrum. Accessed at:
Hall, L.J. (2018). Autism spectrum disorders: From theory to practice. New York, NY: Pearson.
Hunt, L. & Chalmers, D. Eds. (2013). University teaching in focus: A learning-centered approach. New York, NY: Routledge.
Zachor, D. A., Vardi, S., Baron-Eitan, S., Brodai-Meir, I., Ginossar, N., & Ben-Itzchak, E. (2017). The effectiveness of an outdoor adventure
programme for young children with autism spectrum disorder: A controlled study. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 59, 550-556.