National Association of Parents of Autistic People
On 2 August 2010, the death occurred of Professor Ivar Lovaas, Professor Emeritus at UCLA and promoter of early intensive intervention based on the principles of ABA.
ANGSA wishes to join the international scientific community in lamenting the loss of Professor Lovaas.
In 1987, ANGSA contacted Professor Lovaas following the publication of an article in which he proved the efficacy of this special teaching technique. Lovaas gave us permission to publish our correspondence in our fledgling Newsletter. When we invited him to lecture in Italy, he chose to send us one of his more brilliant disciples, Greg Buch, to conduct a number of workshops on how to treat children with autistic syndromes.
Greg Buch spent three weeks in Italy in March 1989, working an eight-hour day with Italian children in the Department of Child Neuropsychiatry at Bologna University, then headed by Professor Paola Rossi Giovanardi; at the Bologna USL No. 28 (local health unit); and at the Child Neuropsychiatric Service in Siena, then headed by Professor Zappella.
In Bologna, video recordings were made of all his procedures, and some are still available and are used by us for instructional purposes.
In order to popularize this approach, ANGSA commissioned an Italian translation of Lovaas’s works under the title L’autismo. After some initial difficulties, the book was accepted by one publisher, our good friend Dr Soncini, proprietor of OMEGA EDIZIONI.
At the time, the Italian environment was decidedly hostile to any ABA-based approach, so ANGSA’s initiative was not appreciated nor taken advantage of, with regard to any advances in the treatment of children with Autism. The time was not ripe, and Italian ‘experts’ regarded children with Autism as normal, and just psychologically troubled and self-absorbed in order to protect themselves from a hostile environment (a ‘refrigerator mother’), thereby demonizing Lovaas’ approach.
In opposition to the predominant views of the 60s, Lovaas starts from the observation that a child, even if gravely disabled, will always be able to learn, provided her/his teachers make concessions to the disability and use reinforcement strategies suitable for her/his level. According to Lovaas, no-one should be considered ineducable, and parent support is essential to obtain positive outcomes, since the recommended approach, whenever used in an institution, is insufficient to ensure equal learning by all children, something which is absolutely necessary in this field.
Lovaas’ message was one of hope for all those who present ‘development retardation’, something which was far from accepted in those days. He was a pioneer of a quantitative and rigorous evaluation of outcomes. In terms of curative goals, he revalued the role of parents, who until then had been considered to be responsible for serious disabilities. We remember Ivar Lovaas with gratitude.
Liana Baroni Fortini
President, ANGSA Onlus