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Surprising Science

Can Applied Behavior Analysis ‘Cure’ Autism?

ABA, a time-intensive autism treatment called applied behavior analysis, has wide support and is now a profitable business. But the jury is still out on its effectiveness.

What’s the Latest Development?

With the explosion in diagnosis of autism, so has demand for applied behavior analysis (ABA) grown. It has become a thriving business, worth more than $200 million a year in California alone. Researchers have found that it can improve behavior and language but doubts remain about its effectiveness.

What’s the Big Idea?

Paradoxically, ABA’s popularity gets in the way of conducting studies that meet the highest scientific standards. Researchers say many parents are unwilling to have their children assigned to comparison groups, which receive less intensive treatment. If scientists understood which elements of ABA do what, they could better tailor the treatment to patients’ needs and thereby serve more children.

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