A Shocking Obituary

Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas died earlier this month. Lovaas was a behaviorist. His obituary mentioned his claim that he could have turned  “Adolf Hitler into a nice man had he gotten him to UCLA by age 4 or 5.” Dr. Lovaas was also infamous for using an electrified grid on the floor and cattle prods to change the behavior of  extremely withdrawn or extremely self-abusive patients.

After such aversive techniques became illegal in California, Dr. Lovaas moderated his approach and produced a study in the eighties involving intense behavioral treatment of young children with autism. The results of the study have led many to claim that very young children with autism can “recover” when treated “scientifically” with behaviorist techniques, and that other approaches are unproven. I’m a skeptic when it comes to many of the claims made by Lovaas’s followers, but certainly many parents are convinced that his ABA techniques have dramatically improved the lives of their children with autism.

Despite my being one of his detractors, families and educators do owe Dr. Lovaas and the behaviorists a debt of gratitude for helping rid mothers and families of any guilt associated with the condition. While some saw “refrigerator moms” coldly failing to bond with their child, behaviorists accurately saw autism as a condition the child was probably born with, not a result of poor parenting. Behaviorists also saw potential in children with autism to be educated, or at least trained, rather than locked away in a residential facility away from the family. For that I say, thank you.

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August 17, 2010. Uncategorized.

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