What is the Lovaas Program?
The Lovaas Program uses techniques that focus on breaking complex tasks into smaller, more achievable steps. As children learn each step, they get praise and rewards. Difficult behaviour is ignored when it happens.
The Lovaas Program is based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
Other common names for the Lovaas Program include the UCLA Young Autism Project.
Who is the Lovaas Program for?
The Lovaas Program is used for autistic preschoolers. Children can take part in this therapy until they reach school age. The Program can be slightly modified for children who are already at school.
What is the Lovaas Program used for?
Supporters of the Lovaas Program suggest that it results in:
- reduced self-stimulatory behaviour
- improved language skills – for example, increased verbal communication and vocabulary
- increased emotional attachment to others
- increased IQ
- reduced need for support in the classroom.
Where does the Lovaas Program come from?
The Lovaas Program was developed in the early 1980s at the University of California in the United States as part of a research project focusing on young autistic people. It’s named after the researcher, Ivar Lovaas. It was originally known as the UCLA Young Autism Project model.
What is the idea behind the Lovaas Program?
The Lovaas Program is based on the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and the idea that skills can be taught in a systematic way to improve children’s behaviour. As children get better at a skill, they feel encouraged and use the skill more often.
What does the Lovaas Program involve?
The Lovaas Program takes a lot of time and involves planned sessions where children are taught skills.
For the youngest children, the first year of the Lovaas Program involves therapists working with children at home for at least 40 hours per week. These sessions focus on teaching basic learning skills – for example, following simple instructions and imitation. They also focus on reducing behaviour that gets in the way of learning – for example, aggressive behaviour.
In later years children learn more complex skills, including verbal communication, interactive play and cooperation, reading and writing. They learn these skills in settings other than the home – for example, at preschool. The intensity of the Program is gradually reduced.
Costs depend on how the Lovaas Program is applied, and this can vary widely. The therapy team might include different kinds of people (professionals, paid aides, volunteers) working in many different settings. The Program also takes a lot of time and needs a lot of input from therapists and family members, which can increase costs.
You might be able to include the cost of using the Lovaas Program in children’s NDIS plans. You can contact the NDIS to find out.
Does the Lovaas Program work?
The Lovaas Program is based on Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), which is generally seen as an effective approach to working with autistic children. High-quality research shows that the ABA approach has positive effects on the behaviour of autistic children.
ABA principles are used in different ways in different programs, so it might be a good idea to check the outcomes of specific programs to judge how well they’re likely to work for your child.
It’s worth noting that there’s some controversy about ABA. Some people in the autistic community feel that ABA sometimes aims to stop behaviour like flapping or stimming, which can be calming or enjoyable for autistic people.
Who practises the Lovaas Program?
Practitioners can include trained therapists, teachers, volunteers and parents. It’s important to note that professionals using the Lovaas Program need to have had appropriate training. This can sometimes make it difficult to find suitably qualified therapists.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is taking part in the Lovaas Program, you manage the intervention, with therapist training and support. You’re trained to apply the techniques at home, so you can use them during most of the time your child is awake. You might get some help from paid aides, because the therapy is so intensive.
Where can you find a practitioner?
The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has a list of certified behaviour analysts, some of whom might practise the Lovaas Program.
You can find other professionals by going to:
- Speech Pathology Australia – Find a speech pathologist
- Occupational Therapy Australia – Find an occupational therapist
- Australian Psychological Society – Find a psychologist.
If you’re interested in the Lovaas Program, it’s a good idea to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk about it with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood early intervention (ECEI) coordinator or NDIS local area coordinator (LAC), if you have one.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.