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J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 1989 Mar;20(1):17-29.

A comprehensive behavioral theory of autistic children: paradigm for research and treatment.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles 90024-1563.


Although behavioral treatment is the most effective intervention currently available for autistic children, there have been no attempts to present a comprehensive behavioral theory of autistic children since Ferster (1961). The present paper is intended to fill this gap. Behavioral work is distinguished from traditional work with autistic children in three ways: (a) it focuses on specific behaviors rather than on the diagnostic entity of autism; (b) it emphasizes the immediate environment rather than etiology or early history; and (c) research is inductive rather than hypothetico-deductive. The behavioral theory derived from such work has four tenets: (a) autistic children's behaviors are consistent with laws of learning derived from the behavior of other organisms; (b) autistic children have many separate behavioral difficulties best described as a developmental delay; (c) despite their difficulties, many autistic children learn as much as other human beings in certain environments; and (d) their difficulties can be viewed as a mismatch between a deviant nervous system and average or typical environments rather than as a disease. A number of practical and theoretical problems remain that require further research and that would add to the present theory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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