Most Effective Treatment for Autism also Beneficial for Children with Traumatic Brain Injury


Randolph, Mass.Applied behavior analysis (ABA), proven by hundreds of studies to be the most effective method to teach children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), can also be very effective for students with traumatic brain injury, according to Jennifer Silber, Ph.D., BCBA-D, Clinical Director at the May Center School for Brain Injury and Related Disorders in Brockton, Mass.
“ABA is a methodology that uses applied scientific interventions to address behavioral needs,” explains Dr. Silber. “Clinicians at May Institute have found that ABA techniques such as teaching in small steps, repeated practice, and positive reinforcement work well not only for children on the autism spectrum, but also for those with traumatic brain injury (TBI). This is very encouraging news that we are delighted to share during March, National Brain Injury Awareness Month.”
The number of children in this country who have been diagnosed with ASD and TBI is increasing every year. According to the most recent statistics, one in 68 children in the United States has an ASD, and approximately 62,000 children sustain brain injuries annually as a result of motor vehicle crashes, falls, sports injuries, physical abuse, and other causes [Brain Injury Association of America].
“For both populations, treatments that incorporate ABA methodology can facilitate the development of language, social interactions, and independent living,” says Dr. Silber. “They can also help reduce both everyday social problems and serious behavior disorders.”
Young people who have sustained TBI, like those with ASD, may experience challenges in a number of areas including:
  • using and understanding language
  • social skills
  • emotional control, flexibility, and coping
  • academics and learning
  • planning, organizing, and remembering
  • personality changes
  • paying attention
  • gross and fine motor skills 

“When teachers and therapists at our school for students with brain injury and related disorders employ the principles of ABA in classrooms and therapy rooms, they find that many of the challenges experienced by students with TBI can be successfully addressed,” says Dr. Silber.
“With effective treatment such as ABA, students with TBI can and do make significant progress in regaining skills and becoming more independent,” Dr. Silber continues. “ABA is also effective at reducing the challenging behaviors exhibited by students with brain injury so they can participate fully within their families and communities. By utilizing ABA within a multidisciplinary team of professionals, many of the students can make meaningful gains in academics, social skills, vocational skills, and using replacement skills for challenging behaviors. In spite of the significant challenges that accompany a diagnosis of TBI, there is much cause for hope.”
Jennifer Silber, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is the Clinical Director of the May Center School for Brain Injury and Related Disorders in Brockton, Mass. She can be contacted at
May Institute is a national nonprofit organization that provides educational, rehabilitative, and behavioral health services to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury, and behavioral health needs. In addition to its school for students with brain injury and related disorders in Brockton, Mass., May Institute operates four schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities. For more information, call 800-778-7601, or visit
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