How ‘Fake News’ Affects Autism Policy
Government (any public official who influences or determines public policy, including school officials, city council members, county supervisors, etc.) does or does not do about a problem that comes before them for consideration and possible action.
There is a fog that has been generated by corporate interests and organizations attempting to sell their services and products to desperate or poorly educated consumers.(p. 1)
The rise of fake news highlights the erosion of long-standing institutional bulwarks against misinformation in the internet age. Concern over the problem is global. … A new system of safeguards is needed.(, p. 1094)
In the ideal image of science, scientists work in a world detached from our daily political squabbles, seeking enduring empirical knowledge. Scientists are interested in timeless truths about the natural world rather than current affairs. Policy, on the other hand, is that messy realm of conflicting interests, where our temporal (and often temporary) laws are implemented, and where we craft the necessary compromises between political ideals and practical limits. This is no place for discovering truth.
Without reliable knowledge about the natural world, however, we would be unable to achieve the agreed upon goals of a public policy decision. … Science is essential to policymaking if we want our policies concerning the natural world to work.(, p. 3)
- Practice within the boundaries of their competence [and]
- Engage in Continued Professional Development.
As a general rule, in matters concerning physics, the Institute of Physics in Ireland would seek to have appropriately qualified physicists represented on any review panel which might be reporting on ‘findings from physics’.(Institute of Physics in Ireland, personal communication)
Science and Autism Policies in North America
Over 30 years of research demonstrate the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior.
There is sufficient evidence to categorize ABA as medical therapy rather than purely educational.
The absence of ABA means that children with autism are excluded from the opportunity to access learning, with the consequential deprivation of skills, the likelihood of isolation from society and the loss of the ability to exercise the rights and freedoms to which Canadians are entitled.
To support their use of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) as an effective instructional approach in the education of many students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This memorandum establishes a policy framework to support incorporation of ABA methods into school boards’ practices. The use of ABA instructional approaches may also be effective for students with other special education needs.
Science and Autism Policies Elsewhere
A good example is the Linea Guida 21, a guideline on effective treatments for autism recently published by the Italian Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), a research branch of the Italian Ministry of Health. This guideline asserts that behavioural interventions are most effective in autism treatment. However, because no behaviour analyst, academic or professional trained in ABA, was on the scientific board that evaluated the research, the guideline report contained worrying examples of confusion between the science, procedures, models and protocols for intervention.(, p. 169)
Unfortunately, most misconceptions about behaviorism, … will be difficult to correct because they owe more to “academic folklore” than to scholarly analysis. This academic folklore is passed from textbook to textbook and from teacher to student as unquestioned fact. The misconceptions are so well accepted that genuine critical investigation is brought to a halt.(, p. 117)
- Preparing uncritical, incomplete research reviews related to a practice or policy;
- Ignoring counter evidence to favoured views and hiding limitations of research;
- Ignoring or misrepresenting well-argued alternative views and related evidence;
- Arguing ad hominem (attacking the critic) rather than ad rem (responding to the argument). (p. 8)
Local professionals who work with young children suggested to Task Group members that they would have grave reservations about being involved in subjecting such young children to such an intense behavioural programme for fear of causing some kind of psychological damage.(, p. 38)
… the reader may be interested to know that aversives were a generally accepted practice during the 1960s and 1970s. TEACCH, for example also advocated the use of aversives at that time. In their training manual, Schopler et al.  describe the use of ‘aversive and painful procedures’ such as meal deprivation, ‘slaps or spanks on the bottom’, or ‘electric shock, unpleasant tasting or smelling substances’ as appropriate interventions if positive methods are ineffective.(, p. 31)
- Producing evidence-based guidance and advice for health, public health and social care practitioners.
- Developing quality standards and performance metrics for those providing and commissioning health, public health and social care services.
- Providing a range of information services for commissioners, practitioners and managers across the spectrum of health and social care .
During guideline development, there was evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCT) and systematic reviews about psychosocial interventions to improve the core features of autism. However, none of this evidence was about ABA.(, pp. 1, 7, 8, 10, 21, & 23)
Science has evolved over many centuries to become an integral part of modern society, underpinning our health, wealth, and cultural fabric. Yet scientific evidence is often willfully disregarded by politicians worldwide.
They often cherry pick or ignore the science when it does not accord with their political agenda. We have seen ‘alternative facts’ supplant scientific and other evidence bases in this ‘post-fact’ era.
Applied Behaviour Ana (ABA) is one of many commercially available interventions for children with autism.
I continue to accept this view and, therefore, do not promote one type of intervention over another.
in terms of her professional convictions, insofar as she has a principle or a broadly-based objection to ABA, in that she has never recommended it for anyone, and also in terms of the fact that she has been retained by the Department in very many cases, and the same issue has arisen, and her attitude has been the same on every occasion.(, p. 10)
What is a scientific study without random assignment to groups?(, p. 444)
Each child with an illness has his/her own individual needs and it would be inappropriate to invest in only one thing like medical science.
In carrying out its research advisory role the Research Advisory Committee will not seek to espouse or promote a particular methodology in the care and/or treatment of people with autism.(sic)
To answer your queries the Department of Education is involved in education policies for children between 3–19 therefore it would not be for us to determine whether ABA is recognised as a science.(personal communication)
Because there are many different interventions, programmes and techniques used to help individuals with autism which incorporate the principles of applied behaviour analysis it is not possible to provide a ranking for applied behavioural (sic) analysis as a whole.
Although there are several journals devoted to the science of behaviour analysis, the two primary journals are the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. Both are highly rigorous journals with strong citation indices. But all of this is well established fact and what surprises me is that any educated person would question it.(Personal communication)
Interventions in autism must, of necessity, vary according to the specific needs of the individual on the autism spectrum. However, multidisciplinary teams working with individuals with ASDs should include at least one psychologist who possesses specific competencies and skills, in addition to other relevant personnel, such as occupational therapists, mental health workers etc.
The BPS received a large number of messages about the report. Many parents and professionals enthusiastically welcomed it (e.g., ABAA4ALL ). However, there were also some critics and the BPS decided to yield to them and immediately withdrew the guidelines from their webpages, without consultation or notification of the review panel or the public.In the UK, psychological treatment for ASD has traditionally been offered by a psychologist, however, behaviour analysis-based intervention should be supervised and/or delivered by Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA). Most BCBAs have a background in psychology and it is noted that a growing number are part of/lead multidisciplinary autism teams. Note that this document does not recommend that BCBAs should supplant psychologists, but recognises their contribution to the supervision and/or delivery of interventions, depending upon the specific needs of the individual client.
Members of the scientific community share a frustration: many attempts to communicate science are badly received. This frustration is particularly evident in politicized environments.(p. 14048)
All that is genuinely controversial about behaviorism stems from its primary idea, that a science of behavior is possible. At some point in its history, every science has had to exorcise imagined causes (hidden agents) that supposedly lie behind or under the surface of natural events.(p. 1)
Conflicts of Interest
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Implementing an ABA program is not something that is ‘done to someone’, rather it is something that is ‘done with someone’. The goal is to provide opportunities for an individual to acquire skills that increases opportunities to make choices in life. Keenan  commented on the misinformation that is circulated about this goal: ‘It is considered a perversion by some to encourage parents to employ the principles of behaviour in the context of educating their children with autism. Using insights from behaviour analysis, it is argued, is something to be discouraged. ABA is caricatured as NOT being person-centred and it is also argued that designing experiences based on awareness of the influence of [laws of learning] to educate someone necessarily involves coercion, and that the science is guilty of forcing people to conform to one view of the world.’ (p. 7)
|Discipline||RCTs and Systematic Reviews|
|Medical Science||None available|
|Speech-Language Pathology||None available|
|Occupational therapy||None available|
|Psychology; clinical; educational||None available|
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Keenan, M.; Dillenburger, K. How ‘Fake News’ Affects Autism Policy. Societies 2018, 8, 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8020029
Keenan M, Dillenburger K. How ‘Fake News’ Affects Autism Policy. Societies. 2018; 8(2):29. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8020029Chicago/Turabian Style
Keenan, Mickey, and Karola Dillenburger. 2018. "How ‘Fake News’ Affects Autism Policy" Societies 8, no. 2: 29. https://doi.org/10.3390/soc8020029