You have to give Harold Doherty credit for trying. Apparently flummoxed by the lack of real autism science in support of applied behavioral analysis (ABA), Mr. Doherty has responded by concocting an ABA study pretty much out of thin air.
Mr. Doherty's technique this time was to lift some random words from a Washington Post article in order to create the following description of a study presented at this year's International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR): “a study was presented at an autism conference by University of Connecticut psychology professor Deborah Fein showing recovery of between 10 and 20% of subjects originally diagnosed as autistic who were later determined to have lost the autism diagnosis after years of intensive applied behavioral analysis.”
Both a perusal of the Washington Post article and an examination of search results from the IMFAR conference reveal that no such study exists. Deborah Fein did make a presentation at IMFAR regarding a study describing the various characteristics of children defined as “recovered,” but that study was not a long-term study of children under intensive ABA treatment, and that study did not draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of various forms of treatment. Nearly everything in Mr. Doherty's description turns out to be the product of his overactive and not very insightful imagination.
But here is the real irony: if Mr. Doherty's fictitious study were in fact an actual study, it would have devastating consequences for Mr. Doherty's own ABA advocacy. The problem, of course, is that a 10-20% recovery rate is a shockingly low number. The history of autism diagnosis, in which the vast majority of autistic individuals once went entirely unrecognized (and thus by Deborah Fein's definition, would have to be deemed as fully recovered) would suggest the corresponding recovery rate under no treatment at all runs significantly higher than a mere 10-20%. Thus, it would appear the use of ABA on the children in Mr. Doherty's fictitious study has had a tragically negative effect.
Here would be my suggestion to Mr. Doherty: the next time he decides to gild the ABA lily, perhaps he should do a little more gilding in favor of his own side.
[Update 05/16/2009: Be sure to read these observations and informative discussion from someone who actually attended Deborah Fein's presentation at IMFAR.]