New Jersey (888) 755-4657 | Georgia (470) 888-1650 | Indiana (317) 960-3400 | North Carolina (704) 461-3400

The History of ABA Therapy

Table of Contents

There was a time when children with Autism were sent to live at psychiatric institutions with extremely inhumane conditions. 

That’s because, before 1960, many medical and psychological professionals believed that autistic children could not be self-sufficient. They were incapable of learning and interacting with society in general.

However, that type of highly controversial ‘Autism therapy’ changed dramatically thanks to Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas, the founder of ABA therapy. 

This renowned Norweigan-American psychologist was one of the first in the 1950s and 1960s to use the principles of behaviorism to treat people with Autism. 

His pioneering work helped to develop an early form of Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA therapy, a revolutionary Autism treatment.

Since then, ABA therapy has been internationally recognized as the preeminent tool in treating children and adults with Autism.

This is the primary approach we use at Heartlinks to treat a wide range of children with Autism spectrum disorder or ASD.

ABA therapy has revolutionized the Autism landscape by allowing people with this neurological disorder to live healthy and fulfilling lives. 

What is ABA Therapy?

The foundation of ABA therapy lies in the principles of behavior and motivation. 

Boy having fun in ABA therapy

The goal is to increase positive behaviors while decreasing undesired ones. 

ABA practitioners believe behavior can be evaluated, learned, and changed through reinforcement

The therapist is there to work with the child or adult to identify undesired behaviors. Then working together, they try to understand why they exhibit those behaviors and how they can be substituted for more socially acceptable ones.  

The research has indicated that ABA therapy is exceptionally effective at treating not only people with ASD but other behavioral conditions, including ADHD, depression, particular phobias, and anxiety. 

Thanks in part to the fact that ABA therapy can be tailored to an individual’s unique needs, applied behavior analysis has been revolutionary in promoting learning and meaningful change.  

Who Invented ABA?

Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas has been credited with developing ABA therapy. 

Yet the history of ABA therapy can find its roots in psychologist, Dr. John B. Watson. He believed that the field of psychology should focus on observable behavior. This challenged psychology’s belief at the time of solely focusing on private internal events. 

Watson believed a person’s behavior was motivated by environmental stimuli. 

B.F. Skinner, another notable psychologist of that era, expanded on this theory when he stated that the consequences of behavior were also critical. Skinner suggested that a punishment and rewards system could influence future behavior like a person’s environment could, and the term behaviorism was born!

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Dr. Lovaas incorporated these behaviorist theories and developed what is known as ABA therapy. His goals were to:

When Did ABA Become Popular?

Girl telling her aba therapist that she's okay

ABA therapy became popular after Dr. Lovaas published his 1987 article “Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children.”

The study detailed how a group of children with Autism was given 40 hours a week of applied behavioral therapy for two to six years. The results were that 90% of the children that had undergone the treatment showed significant improvements in their ability to socialize and communicate and had dramatic cognitive improvement. 

As a result of this study, ABA therapy became the pinnacle for the behavioral treatment of children who had received an Autism diagnosis. 

Why is ABA Therapy Controversial?

As Dr. Lovaas developed ABA therapy, some peers saw his tactics as too aggressive. His punishments were considered too harsh. 

Lovaas and his team worked with a pair of five-year-old twins. They were attempting to show them how to be more affectionate. During this period, a researcher would command one of the twins to hug the other. If he refused, he’d receive an electric shock.

Other punishments accredited to Dr. Lovaas included subjecting children to loud noises, bright lights, slapping them, or denying them food. 

Current ABA therapists, such as those at Heartlinks, do not use electric shock; or any type of punishment. We only use rewards. If a child cannot complete a task, we give them prompts and help until they succeed. 

However, despite eliminating physical punishment, many Autism advocates believe ABA therapy is still too harsh. 

They argue that teaching a child with ASD to make extended eye contact when speaking with someone else, even if it causes them pain, is worth it. Advocates oppose teaching children to ignore physical discomfort or disguise their Autism to be treated as equal to others.

Choose Heartlinks For Your ABA Needs

At Heartlinks, our priority has been and always will be the safety and well-being of young clients. 

Our focus is on encouraging communication and teaching life skills through ABA therapy

Despite its controversies, ABA therapy has successfully instructed children with Autism to learn new skills, alter existing behaviors, improve their academic performance, and modify existing behaviors. 

As an evidence-based therapy, it has led to many positive outcomes for millions of children with Autism.
Contact Heartlinks today to learn more about how ABA therapy can help your child.

Contact Us