Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Friday, January 30, 2009

Catching up

A pre-Xmas one from the Age bin:
Letter to the Editor

Sarah Wilson says that applied behavioural analysis (ABA) therapy for her autistic child costs $22,500 a year, and wants the government to pay for it. Other parents give the cost as closer to $60,000. Given that the prevalence of people with autism in Australia is variously given at 12 to 35 per 10,000, suggesting a total autistic population of between 25,200 and 73,500 (not to mention the larger total of 135,000 people with the broader diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder) that indicates that the government could be up for between 567 million and 8.2 billion dollars p/a. If we confine ABA to children under 18 then that’s only 140 million to 2 billion a year, but that’s still quite a lot, especially considering that there’s no particularly strong evidence that ABA works. Its fame rests almost entirely on a 1987 study that nobody’s ever been able to replicate, and recent work by researchers such as Dr. Morton Gernsbacher has shown that in properly controlled studies ABA shows very little gain at all and certainly no greater gains than other cheaper and less taxing therapies. ABA hasn’t shown it can produce a cure, or anything even remotely close to a cure, for autism, and we shouldn’t let our natural sympathy for worried parents rush us into open-ended commitments to enormous expenditures.

Chris Borthwick,
West Melbourne

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