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ABA, Teacch, and the Social and Empirical Validation of Evidence-Based Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Research-Supported Interventions for Schools, Homes, and Clinics

Friday, 3 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
K. Callahan, H. L. Hughes and P. Ma, University of North Texas, Denton, TX
Background:  Social validity refers to the acceptability of goals, procedures, and outcomes of programs and interventions by their key consumers; thus, it is highly correlated with whether or not strategies are used effectively in homes, schools, and clinics.  Relatively little attention has been devoted to socially validating effective treatments for individuals with ASDs.  As a result, it has been difficult for teachers, parents, administrators, and other service providers to identify valid intervention components.  Equally important is recent work in the US by the National Autism Center (NAC) and the National Professional Development Center in ASDs (NPDC) to systematically determine interventions and treatments with demonstrated effectiveness for children and adolescents with ASDs. Research to investigate interventions that have both social and empirical validation could have a significant positive impact on autism programming.

Objectives:  The purpose of this study is to determine the relationship between socially and empirically demonstrated evidence-based practices for individuals with ASDs.  More specifically, using data from studies identifying socially valid and empirically-demonstrated interventions, we will identify a list of recommended interventions, including components of ABA and TEACCH, which can be used as a starting point for parents, teachers, and other service providers in selecting and implementing research-proven practices.

Methods:  In a previous study a survey was mailed to 324 parents, teachers, and administrators asking respondents to rate the importance (on a seven-point Likert-like scale) of 60 evidence-based components of autism interventions in school/clinical settings.  Intervention components were rank ordered by overall mean ratings across all respondent groups, and categorized into five functional areas.  The components were further reliably analyzed by subject matter experts to determine if they aligned with practices typically associated with ABA, TEACCH, neither approach, or both approaches.  For the present study, the 60 intervention components were re-analyzed to determine the correlation between the socially validated treatments and their corresponding intervention components identified as “established,” “emerging,” or “unestablished” by the NAC, and “confirmed” as evidence-based practices by the NPDC.

Results:  Teachers, parents, and administrators indicated consistently high levels of social validity for research-based practices in autism (mean rating = 6.27, range 3.34-6.90).  All of these primary consumer groups of autism interventions ranked the components inherent within both ABA and TEACCH higher than those associated with either model alone.  A comparison of the socially validated components with those identified in the NAC and NPDC studies showed a significant correlation, with 23 of 24 (95.8%) of the interventions represented on both lists of research-supported practices.  ABA components made up the largest percentage of the socially and empirically valid treatments.

Conclusions:  By providing an empirically-based, rank-ordered, list of interventions with both social and empirical research support (e.g., the top-rated interventions include social skills training, functional communication training, functional behavior analysis, task analysis, discrete trial training, and visual supports) teachers, parents, and administrators in schools and clinics can make more efficient and better-informed decisions about which interventions to implement.  In addition, these groups can use these validated interventions to evaluate existing curricula and develop more effective training to improve the outcomes of their autism programming.

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