Thursday, March 27, 2008

Raun Kaufman Spews Offensive Unfounded Anti-ABA Rhetoric

I guess business can't be that good at the Autism Treatment Center of America. Raun Kaufman, the CEO of the ATCA has released an anti-ABA diatribe, Stop Trying to Turn Our Children Into Robots, that perpetuates falsehoods about ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, the most evidence supported intervention known to assist autistic children and youths. Mr. Kaufman repeats incorrect, unfounded stereotypes about ABA turning autistic children into robots. He goes completely off the deep end and insults parents, like me, who have seen ABA help our children by comparing ABA intervention for autistic children to dog training.

My message for Mr. Kaufman, as the father of a profoundly autistic boy who has received the benefits of ABA based intervention, is simple - you don't know what you are talking about Mr. Kaufman.

I have several blogs on this site where I reference my son waiting in anticipation for the arrival of his ABA therapist. Conor enjoys his ABA therapy and it has helped us communicate with him and vice versa. It has helped Conor, despite his severe deficits, learn a range of bathroom skills and safety skills. Conor has learned basic reading, printing and math skills .. by ABA instruction. And he enjoys it asking for his ABA therapists by name and long after they have moved on. I have numerous pictures of Conor on this blog site. He is a happy, fun kid to be with and he is far from being the "robot" or "dog" that Mr. Kaufman rudely insinuates.

What Mr. Kaufman does not say in his diatribe is what the American Academy of Pediatrics has confirmed, consistent with previous reports by the MADSEC Autism Task Force, state agencies in New York and California and the office of the US Surgeon General that:

The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in
ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of
research by using single-subject methodology21,25,27,28 and
in controlled studies of comprehensive early intensive
behavioral intervention programs in university and
community settings.29–40 Children who receive early intensive
behavioral treatment have been shown to make
substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic
performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some
measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have
been significantly better than those of children in control

The AAP report makes no mention of Mr. Kaufman's Son-Rise program. The MADSEC Report 1999-2000 did mention it though. After confirming the studies supporting the effectiveness of ABA intervention for autistic children the MADSEC Autism Task Force Report stated that:

According to Levy (1998), the Son-Rise Program does not guarantee results. The approach is
based upon “. . .becoming a student of the child’s world, observing, learning, assisting and
supporting the child’s flowering in a loving and non-judgmental environment” (Levy, 1998).
The Son-Rise Program does not seek to provide the child with information, or to teach the child to master predetermined skills. Instead, the program views the child’s current level of
performance as being the best that the child can do; if the child could do better, he would (eg, if the child could follow instructions, he would). The Son-Rise program emphasizes total
acceptance of the child, and encourages him to become a more motivated and participating
individual (Levy, 1998).

- MADSEC Autism Task Force Report p. 54

With respect to the scientific evidence, or lack thereof, in respect of the various autism interventions the MADSEC report stated in respect of Greenspan's Floor Time and Son-Rise:

• Without scientific evaluation of any kind:
Greenspan’s DIR/”Floor Time,” Son-Rise.

- MADSEC Autism Task Force Report p.6

And also:

There have been no studies of the Son-Rise Program’s effectiveness. Researchers should
consider investigation using research protocols. Professionals considering Son-Rise should
portray the method as without scientific evaluation of any kind,

- MADSEC Autism Task Force Report, p. 54

Mr. Kaufmann and the Autism Treatment Center of America would probably do better in promoting their product if they looked into the possibility of having independent, objective, studies conducted of their program and published in peer reviewed journals instead of perpetuating false stereotypes about ABA and insulting parents and family members who fight so hard to help their autistic children with ABA; demonstrated by decades of research as effective at helping autistic children learn and develop.


Raun K. Kaufman said...

I applaud your work with your son and your dedication to helping him. I also celebrate you for finding something that you feel is effective.

Interestingly, at no point in my article did I mention ABA. That you saw my article as describing ABA says more about your view of ABA than it does about mine.

I wish you all the best with your son.

Unknown said...

Mr Kaufman

Thank you for visiting my site and responding to my comment. You did not expressly say ABA or Applied Behavior Analysis. You specifically though referred to a common, although misinformed criticism of ABA, the "robotic myth".

You also

We can agree that children with autism are human beings, yes? Then why do we thrust upon parents a treatment designed to "program" our children to obey commands like a robot? And you also referred expressly to the Rotenberg School which uses ABA - with aversives. And referenced the fact that most ABA is done today without aversives.

It is clear you were talking about ABA. But by all means, take the opportunity to prove me wrong and indicate what other intervention you were referring to? You can't because there is only one intervention which is widely endorsed for autism, and which has, incorrectly been criticised on the grounds you offered.

Again, feel free to indicate what other intervention you might have been alluding to if you can.


Stamp out unwanted "autistic" behaviors. Achieve compliance through repetitive training. Reward desired behaviors with items such as food. Sound familiar? That's no surprise, since these principles share their intellectual roots with animal training. Yes, folks, we have now reached the point where it's controversial to assert that dog training is for dogs, not children with autism.

Why are parents still told that the best they can get is an educational program that pushes and pulls their children, stopping them from their self-soothing behaviors and programming them like robots to do as we say?

And, please, don't tell me "it doesn't work this way anymore." That's a tough claim to make when we have a school in my home state of Massachusetts that still administers powerful and repeated electric shocks to discourage unwanted behavior.

Anonymous said...

The ATCA has had moderate successes characterized by a few high-profile turnarounds such as Raun. His initial diagnosis is now hotly debated.

You want in on their unscientific methods? You want to see where they are conceptually? Go to one of their seminars and ask about current findings on Mirror Neurons. They are entirely insular and feel that their moderate successes speak for themselves. But they don't pioneer anything based on current medical findings; instead, they prefer to attack the ABA, which they view as the "competition," if you will.

They send out 'child facilitators' schooled in their method, but are they required to keep up-to-date with the science of Autism? Read some of Barry Kaufman's books, the EARLY versions, not the revised editions, and you'll see what I mean... they don't update, they simply prefer to remove embarrassing and discredited material.

In fact the best view of them is on the inside. Maybe try getting a summer "volunteer" grunt-work position with them which pays minimum wage. While mowing and doing groundskeeping, you get to look at Barry's mansion on the hill.

Anonymous said...

It might be helpful to actually read what Raun offered. He offered a question. No where can it be rationally suggested he spewed offensive unfounded anti-aba Rhetoric. He offered stimulus, from a place of experience, and involvment in families lives worldwide helping them learn to choose a more useful attitude and that respects one dealing with autism. benevolentwarrior

Unknown said...

I I am psychologist and ABA practitioner in Australia who successfully worked for many years with autistic children; some of those children are currently enjoying life free of autistic diagnosis. ABA without doubt is effective and Mr Kaufman is crediting ABA in his comments. The criticism he expressed of ABA is not anecdotal and from historical perspective, it is a technique which was developed by behaviourists in animal studies to shape animal behaviour. ABA therapy works for animals as well as any other human population i.e. acquired brain injury, down syndrome - wherever it is needed to teach skill mastery. Please make distinction that if method is effective for animals and other population, it does not equate populations to each other, i.e. children are not being compared to animals. Scientists use animal hormones and fluids to treat human conditions i.e. flu vaccinations, it does not mean that a human is a bird or a horse or that our bodies function the same way.


Unknown said...

I came across same comments many times from PARENTS of autistic children who reached a stage where ABA was not effective any more. i.e. the children acquired and mastered all curriculum based items but were somewhat slow on demonstration - usually recorded 3 sec delay between the question and answer i.e. what colour ......yellow, etc, making them to stand out from their peers and appearing robotic like. Methodologically ABA has shortcomings like any other scientific technique and he needs to be credited for saying things that are true. ABA is effective without a doubt (what he stated) but it does not suit every family or every child. I can cite numerous examples where getting rid of stim behaviour would be counter productive to a child's development.i.e. non verbal child obsessed with watching Thomas the Tank Engine - for hours; speech emerged - echolaic - I could sneeze and a a child would cite a movie - Bless you said Percy to a Fat Controller!! Now this "obsession" provided an opportunity for language development and discussions with the child that led to proper and normal social language. Yes, he can cite a dialog of every spiderman movie and Lord of the Rings now but just imagine if we did take ABA approach to eliminate video watching and "funny talk"? I actually remember when we were instructed by a senior therapist to say to him - No funny talk!!! He does not have diagnosis anymore!! Still can cite his favorite movie dialogue on request!! Fortunately it is not regarded as "funny talk" anymore but age appropriate social talk for a 13 y.o!!!

One of the things that I did not enjoy as ABA therapist was teaching kids out of context - Actions in a room with no contextual reference - I was asking a child to clap, wave etc. The child would comply and you would mark sooner or later mastery. On a command they would clap and wave but to whom and why? Then generalization would come with trepidation. I decided to teach them contextually. If we needed to wave, we would go outside and wave to people to say hello etc.

As life works in mysterious ways, I am now myself a mother of autistic child (diagnosed with severe autism) and I am not affiliated with Son Rise, nor trained in their method and while I use ABA to teach my 3 y.o son academic skills, I never used ABA to address self stimulatory behaviours. Additionally, at the very moment i noticed autistic behaviours in my son, I instinctively joined my son and repeated his behaviors and noticed his immediate reaction - eye contact, hugs, kisses, turn taking. I would take any opportunity when he displayed behaviour to accept it as something he needs to do and engage with him at his level. Today he is free of self stimulatory behaviours and shows no social deficits. We have a long road ahead of us with his language and cognitive skills but amazingly he does not struggle with social skills. While the approach of Son Rise and Green Span has not been validated scientifically as effective, we need to remain open minded that ABA was for a long time not "validated" scientifically and there were some problems with replication of results. For that reason ABA was not offered in Australia as recently as 1996. Methods aside,both foster interaction between a child and the therapist, perhaps it is not about one approach or the other but about creating opportunity for our children to interact in the meaningful and positive way, when whatever they display, naming a shape, colour or action or engaging in stim behaviour - they receive dignifying recognition and positive regard which they need so much to thrive and develop. Interestingly recent evidence based research - Brain Based Therapy with Adults and Children by Arden and Linford cites research indicating that one of the most powerful influences on brain development are - quality and amount of social relationships and emotional support from family and friends. Monika Wrzesinska Johnson

Unknown said...


Thank you for your thoughtful and courteous comments.

I can't agree with your assertion that Kaufman is crediting ABA in his commentary. He talks about turning our children into robots, electric shock therapy etc. He describes ABA as dog training not to show that it works with animals AND humans but to make people feel that using ABA with autistic children is treating them like dogs. It was insulting and derogatory.

I can't respond to your description of situations you dealt with as a therapist since I have no information other than what you provide. Any therapy has to be adjusted to fit context and the challenges that are being addressed.

Again, I thank you for your contribution to the discussion.