Autism and Lovaas treatment: a systematic review of effectiveness evidence

Bassett K, Green C J, Kazanjian A
Record ID 32000000888
Authors' objectives:

The aim of this report is to examine whether early, intensive behavioural therapy for children with autism results in normal functioning, or essentially a cure.

Authors' results and conclusions: 1) The published literature on autism contains only one report, from a controlled clinical trial, in which the authors claim that their treatment normalized or cured children with autism. Although the study reported a benefit, it was small (19 children in the treatment group) and its findings of benefit could have been achieved by assembling a high-functioning group of autistic children. The scientific community has been reluctant to accept the results of this study, noting that while methodologically stronger than published reports of alternate comprehensive therapies, the study is inadequate to establish the degree to which this program of therapy results in children achieving 'normal' functioning, however defined. 2) The benefits in terms of overall functioning found by Lovaas 1987 have not been corroborated by independent researchers. Published controlled studies involving this intensive behavioural treatment program do not report children achieving normal functioning as defined by Lovaas 1987. Furthermore, uncontrolled studies, although a weaker form of evidence than controlled studies because they do not account for the development process outside therapy, similarly do not support conclusions of ,normalization- through Lovaas therapy.
Authors' recommendations: The report concludes that, while many forms of intensive behavioural therapy clearly benefit children with autism, there is insufficient scientifically-valid effectiveness evidence to establish a causal relationship between a particular program of intensive, behavioural treatment, and the achievement of 'normal functioning'.
Authors' methods: Systematic review
Project Status: Completed
Year Published: 2000
English language abstract: An English language summary is available
Publication Type: Not Assigned
Country: Canada
MeSH Terms
  • Autistic Disorder
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Child
Organisation Name: British Columbia Office of Health Technology Assessment
Contact Address: B. C. Office of Health Technology Assessment, Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, S-184 Koerner Pavilion, 2211 Wesbrook Mall, The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B. C., V6T 1Z3, Canada.
Copyright: BCOHTA
This is a bibliographic record of a published health technology assessment from a member of INAHTA or other HTA producer. No evaluation of the quality of this assessment has been made for the HTA database.