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What is the Lovaas Approach?

If the Lovaas Approach has been recommended for your child, you may have some questions about the treatment. As a parent, you are vital to any intervention and it is important that you understand the goals and the strategies that you will be asked to support.

Also see: History of Autism Treatment

What is the Lovaas Approach?

The Lovaas Approach is a form of Applied Behavioral Analysis that is used in early intervention programs for children who have developmental delays or who have been identified as autistic. The program, created by Ole Ivar Lovaas, is derived from work done by B.F. Skinner in the 1930s. The goal is to begin intervention with children as young as two to help them gain communication abilities and skills in education and activities of daily living. The intervention consists of breaking skills down into the simplest components and rewarding children positively and then “generalizing” the skills into a natural environment.

The first step is establishing a rapport with the children. The first skill is requesting, or asking for something. It is important for children to learn vocal language, if possible. Parental involvement is crucial for continuity of treatment at home. Another component of this approach is encouraging the child to imitate other children to develop social skills. The Lovaas approach of working with autistic and developmentally delayed children is based on scientific principles. Progress is continually measured and adapted as the children age. The motivating rewards differ with each child as does the program.

Are there Other Treatments of this kind?

According to an article on the Lovaas home website, there are at least two other major treatments. One is the emotional/development model. In this intervention, therapists concentrate on helping children develop and deal with appropriate emotions. The program is based upon six daily 30-minute “floor sessions” of child-led play with the therapist. There are some structured activities as well. As example of this model is the DIR Model. Another popular model is TEACCH, or the Educational/School Model. This is the most structured of the programs and is delivered in a highly structured classroom environment. Visual cues are foundational components of this method. The TEACCH method uses schedules and routines along with learned patterns like working from left-to-right to teach different skills. Although the intervention is classroom-based, it focuses on issues besides academic learning.

Is the Lovaas Approach Effective?

There are forty years of research behind the Lovaas approach and more, if you include the research into Skinner’s theories, on which it is based. In all of the research into outcomes, the primary directive is that progress must be attributable to the program and not some other variable. Another study point is whether the intervention lasts as the child ages. In addition, other studies must be able to replicate the findings of the Lovaas research. One of the most satisfactory outcomes of the Lovaas approach is that, by age seven, many children are undistinguishable from their peers socially and have mainstreamed back into the regular classroom, where they perform at average levels on testing and assignments.


Children on the autism spectrum vary in the severity of the condition. The same can be said of developmental delays. The ability of the therapist to structure his intervention to the needs and abilities of the child is an important characteristic of the approach, but parental support and involvement is vital.