Applied behavior analytic interventions for children with autism: a description and review of treatment research

Ann Clin Psychiatry. Jul-Sep 2009;21(3):162-73.


Background: Autism is a disorder characterized by pervasive delays in the development of language and socialization, and the presence of stereotyped, repetitive behaviors or nonfunctional interests. Although a multitude of treatments for autism exist, very few have been the subject of scientific research. The only treatment that has been supported by substantial empirical research is treatment based on applied behavior analysis (ABA).

Methods: This article describes components of comprehensive ABA treatment programs, reviews research on effectiveness, and discusses issues related to collaboration between ABA and psychiatry.

Results: ABA has been supported by several hundred single case experiments and an increasing number of between-groups studies. Comprehensive ABA treatment programs are comprised of multiple intervention procedures, such as discrete trial instruction and natural environment training, and are founded on basic principles of learning and motivation, such as positive reinforcement, extinction, stimulus control, and generalization. Clinicians in the fields of ABA and psychiatry have similar goals regarding client outcome, and several ABA measurement and analysis procedures produce information that may be useful to psychiatrists.

Conclusions: ABA treatment programs for individuals with autism are supported by a significant amount of scientific evidence and are therefore recommended for use. Patient care would likely benefit from a greater degree of collaboration between practitioners in the fields of ABA and psychiatry.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Early Intervention, Educational / methods
  • Humans
  • Psychiatry / methods
  • Treatment Outcome