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Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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6.6 1980s: an intervention to help children with autism

An influential early development in therapeutic interventions adopted the idea that autistic people have acquired, through learning, a set of ‘maladaptive’ or inappropriate behaviours, which can be eradicated or ‘retrained’. The psychologist Ivar Lovaas pioneered behaviour modification techniques for children with autism, using rewards to encourage ‘desired’ behaviour such as language and to discourage ‘difficult’ behaviours (Lovaas, 1987). While these days some practitioners are highly critical of behaviour modification, arguing that it does not address the underlying psychological difficulties, approaches based on Lovaas’ ideas are still in use. Other approaches which aim to tackle the core problems more directly may nonetheless incorporate the basic principles of behaviour shaping.

A photograph of Ivar Lovaas.
Figure 5 Ivar Lovaas 1928-2010