A recent article appeared in the Modesto Bee talking about an 11-year-old boy named Effie Linares who has been given as yet another anecdotal example of ABA's efficacy as an autism intervention. The boy is shown in the article smiling with three of his good friends. A seemingly happy boy untouched by the misery of autism that affects children in many instances causing suffering. The article talks about how he is mainstreamed in a fifth grade class in a regular school.
But is this really a success story? The article does not really give a clear before and after picture of the boy's functioning level, other than talking about how at one time he went ballistic when other people touched his Disney videos which at age 11 he no longer does. But what proof is there that natural maturity just caused him to outgrow this behavior and there was no casual relationship between the 40 hour per week Lovaas treatment and an end to this behavior? Also, the article states that he was mainstreamed since the age of 5. It is possible he was always quite high functioning relative to other autistic children. We can't really tell anything from the article.
Lovaas claimed in 1987 that nearly half of his best outcome subjects in the experimental group had completely normal functioning, in other words, no one would possibly know that they were autistic or had ever been autistic. Is this the case for Effie? The answer would appear to be no from a read of the article. He still has a shadow that aides him in his class so the mainstreaming is not 100% and does not jibe with the Lovaas best outcome subjects who had no aides or shadows. Effie's father also has to work the night shift in order to volunteer in the school to help out his son. To me, this does not sound like normal functioning or a complete success story. Effie's teacher also states that he says and does things that show he is different to the other kids, so it would seem that this boy is not indistinguishable from his peers. The article neglects to talk about his academic performance in relation to the other children in his class.
Most pertinent of all, what will happen when Effie becomes an adult? Will he be able to hold down a job, date women? As an autistic adult who by most standards is very high functioning, I have had no success in finding a girlfriend and though I worked sporadically for nearly 28 years, I finally gave up the ghost it was so difficult and I had such a hard time in the work place. I have written in the past about the lack of acknowledgement of the existence of autistic adults and how we are not Peter Pans. Someday we will grow up and have all of the issues of adulthood to contend with, just like Neurotypical persons. Of course no one is thinking of what might happen to Effie and other success stories when they become adults. No adult outcomes, have ever been published in the peer reviewed literature of autistic children who have undergone ABA. The informal presentations at conferences, while seemingly a shoddy standard of science, have been used to claim successful adult outcomes and provide cost-benefit analyses of ABA as a treatment.
Even as far as anecdotal success of ABA as an autism treatment, the oldest success story that I am aware of is that of Drew Crowder written about in the book Autism from Tragedy to Triumph. He is in college when we last hear about Drew. I have yet to hear of any adult success stories even though the children in the 1987 study are now probably about 40, some possibly older.
The playwright Bertolt Brecht said that those who laugh have not been told the terrible news. Though this is something that parents of autistic children don't like to think about, the the stark reality is there.