Technical review of published research on applied behaviour analysis interventions for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Publication Details

New Zealand Ministries of Education and of Health requested a technical review of the evidence base on the effectiveness of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Released on Education Counts: April 2010

Author(s): Oliver Mudford, Neville Blampied, Katrina Phillips, Dave Harper, Mary Foster, John Church, Maree Hunt, Jane Prochnow, Dennis Rose, Angela Arnold-Saritepe, Heather Peters, Celia Lie, Katrina Jeffrey, Eric Messick, Catherine Sumpter, James McEwan and Susan Wilczynski (2009), Auckland UniServices Limited.

Date Published: 15 January 2009 - Revised 16 January 2009

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Results 1. Social Development and Relating to Others

The classification of ‘Social development and relating to others’, as defined by the Ministry of Education, fits closely with the definition of ‘Interpersonal skills’ as given by Wilczynski and Christian (2008, p.52):  

Interpersonal. The tasks comprising this category require social interaction with one or more individuals. Dependent measures associated with these tasks include but are not limited to joint attention, perspective-taking, friendship, social and pretend play, social skills, social engagement, social problem-solving, and appropriate participation in group activities. The area of pragmatics is not included in this list because it will be addressed in the communication section.

Evidence from NSP review

There is strong evidence for the efficacy of behavioural interventions implemented to improve interpersonal skills. There were 78 items with composite SMRS ≥ 2.0 reviewed by the NSP that pertained to the acquisition of interpersonal skills. These items show that the specific behavioural intervention methods that met the criteria for ‘strong evidence’ are: Behavioural package, joint attention, modelling, naturalistic teaching strategies and peer training package. Behavioural intervention methods that met the criteria for ‘emerging evidence’ for improving social development are: Antecedent package, pivotal response treatment, scripting, self-management and social skills package.

Additional evidence from New Zealand reviewers

Seven additional items were reviewed in New Zealand. Five items showed beneficial effects among the nine participants. One item obtained an SMRS score of 4.0, another scored 3.0, and the remaining three scored 2.0. These data support the overall NSP SECS outcome that behavioural intervention methods are beneficial for improving interpersonal skills.

Evidence from studies published from 1998-2007

Of the 85 reviewed items, seven obtained SMRS scores ≥ 4.0. Three of these show beneficial effects and the efficacy of the remaining four are unknown. Thirty-one items obtained SMRS scores between 3 and 3.9, and 26 of these show beneficial effects while the remaining five are unknown. Forty-seven items obtained SMRS scores between 2 and 2.9. Thirty-nine of these show beneficial effects and the remaining eight are unknown. None of the 85 items showed ineffective or harmful effects. Considering this decade of research alone, there is still strong evidence for the benefits of behavioural interventions for improving social skills.

Summary of this section

Overall, there is strong evidence that behavioural intervention methods are beneficial for improving interpersonal skills. There were twice as many articles published from 2005 to 2007 than there are from 1998 to 2004. This shows a considerable increase in research in this area. A wide range of different behavioural intervention methods was used.