Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism, and Occupational Therapy: A Search for Understanding

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Abstract

Occupational therapists strive to be mindful, competent practitioners and continuously look for ways to improve practice. Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has strong evidence of effectiveness in helping people with autism achieve goals, yet it does not seem to be implemented in occupational therapy practice. To better understand whether ABA could be an evidence-based option to expand occupational therapy practice, the authors conducted an iterative, multiphase investigation of relevant literature. Findings suggest that occupational therapists apply developmental and sensory approaches to autism treatment. The occupational therapy literature does not reflect any use of ABA despite its strong evidence base. Occupational therapists may currently avoid using ABA principles because of a perception that ABA is not client centered. ABA principles and occupational therapy are compatible, and the two could work synergistically.

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