Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder with an onset prior to the age of 3. It is one of a group of disorders known as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Other disorders included on the spectrum are Asperger’s Syndrome (no longer diagnosed), Pervasive Developmental Disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and two rare disorders, Rett Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. Autism is considered to be a spectrum disorder because individuals affected by the disorder may exhibit a wide range of social, cognitive, and communicative deficits. Certain characteristics will vary from individual to individual. In addition, symptoms may change over time and look very different at different ages. Certain autistic characteristics will not be apparent until later while others will disappear over time.
Autism carries many definitions from several concentrations. Through international collaboration, experts have agreed to use certain behavioral criteria for the diagnosis of Autism. These have been made explicit in published reference works. The most detailed definition can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV). The diagnostic criteria for autism consist of the following:
Behavior analysis is the scientific study of behavior. The field of Behavior Analysis grew out of the scientific study of principles of learning and behavior. It has two main branches: experimental and applied behavior analysis. The experimental analysis of behavior (EAB) is the basic science of this field and has over many decades accumulated a substantial and well-respected body of research literature. This literature provides the scientific foundation for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is both an applied science that develops methods of changing behavior and a profession that provides services to meet diverse behavioral and educational needs.
Hundreds of researchers have documented the effectiveness of ABA principles and methods for (a) skill acquisition, (b) reduction of challenging behaviors, (c) maintenance of acquired skills, and (d) generalization of skills from one situation to the next in individuals with ASD.
A Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) is a professional who has documented graduate training and supervised, hands-on experience in applied behavior analysis, and has passed a rigorous examination in this area. The national program is managed by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, Inc. (see www.bacb.com). A BCBA is an independent practitioner but may also work as an independent contractor or employee for an organization. BCBAs objectively analyze and operationalize behaviors and environmental variables that may maintain target behaviors. A BCBA is able to effectively develop, interpret, and implement appropriate assessment and intervention methods (i.e., functional behavior assessments, functional analyses) for use in various environments and for a range of cases. Following thorough assessment, the BCBA is able to design data driven behavior analytic interventions that promote behavioral progress and enhance quality of life. BCBAs also supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts and others who implement behavior analytic interventions.