Autism & Applied Behavior Analysis

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurobiological disorder typically diagnosed within the first three years of life. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder given the broad range of expression with regard to intellectual ability, language/communication, and social responsiveness. DSM-V (2013) describes three levels of functioning in the autism spectrum. Autism Level 1 is considered to be the least “severe” level of ASD and those in Level 1 tend to demonstrate average or above average intellectual functioning while presenting with social and communicative deficits. Autism Level 2 generally refers to those individuals with more significant social and communicative challenges than those in Level 1 and who, as a result, may engage in higher levels of problematic behavior. Autism Level 3 consists of those individuals on the spectrum who present with the most significant intellectual, social and communicative challenges along with, potentially, engaging in challenging behavior (e.g., inflexibility, stereotypy, aggression, self-injury, etc.) more frequently and with greater intensity.

Independent of where someone may be on the Autism Spectrum, ASD presents individuals and families with ongoing, significant challenges to developing the skills necessary to lead an independent life in the community. At the same time each individual with ASD is their own person with their own likes, dislikes, strengths, challenges, idiosyncrasies. Individuals with ASD are life-long learners, capable of acquiring new skills well into later adulthood. To be as independent as possible, most individuals will require some degree of individualized supports across his or her lifespan.

The EPIC Programs exist to provide individualized, evidence-based assessment, instruction and intervention to Individuals with ASD Levels 2 & 3 in school, the community, on the job, and across the many facets of adulthood to promote a positive quality of life.

Autism Facts & Figures

Below are some relevant facts about ASD that are offered to help you better understand ASD within the context of the family, home, school and community.

You can find more information and ways you can help in EPIC’s Autism Resource Center

Nationally, the prevalence of ASD is 1 in 54 (1.85%) children.
In New Jersey, the prevalence of ASD is 1 in 32 (3.1%)* which breaks down into 1 in 20 boys (5%), and 1 in 85 girls (1.2%).
For every one girl diagnosed on the autism spectrum, there are 4 boys diagnosed.
There are no medical tests or biomarkers that can be used to identify an ASD diagnosis.
  • The etiology of ASD is still unknown although genes and gene mutations (e.g., copy error variants) are generally believed to play a large role in a later diagnosis on the autism spectrum.
  • Known risk factors such as prematurity, low birth weight, multiples, and advanced maternal age, advanced paternal age, air pollution, etc appear to contribute but the weight of each factor is unknown.
  • The entire body of research into any possible link between childhood vaccinations and ASD clearly and consistently supports the fact that vaccines do not cause ASD.
  • 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability (intelligence quotient [IQ] <70).
  • ASD affects all ethnic and socioeconomic groups although black and latinx children tend to be diagnosed later than white children.
  • There is no medical cure for ASD.
  • The most effective and scientifically validated methods
    to educate individuals with autism are based on the principles of applied behavior analysis.

Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is a “science devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior”. More precisely, “ABA is a scientifically validated approach for discovering variables that reliably influence socially significant behavior and for developing a technology of behavior change that takes practical advantage of those discoveries.” (Cooper, Heron, Heward, 2007, p. 3) With over 60-years of supporting research, behavior analytic intervention has repeatedly been proven to be the most effective treatment for ASD.

Behavior analytic intervention utilizes positive reinforcement to teach new skills across multiple instructional domains and environments. Skills targeted for instruction are often broken down into smaller, component parts that are taught separately until acquired. Data are recorded on each component

of the skill to monitor progress and make objective decisions regarding programming. Once all the component parts have been acquired, they are then collectively integrated into the full target skill. The emphasis on the smaller components of the skill helps to create a solid foundation for the completion of not only the target skill, but other similar tasks that the learner may eventually need to learn.

ABA is a very broad field with implications well beyond autism intervention. ABA has significant applications across a diverse array of interests and activities including, but not limited to, addiction treatment, animal training, environmental sustainability, health, sports, behavioral medicine, behavioral economics, organization behavior management, criminal behavior, gerontology, mental health, pediatric feeding disorders and human sexuality.