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Interview with Phil Reed

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About Phil Reed

Phil Reed obtained a D.Phil. from the University of York, and then held Research Fellowships at the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham, before being a Lecturer at the University of Sussex, and Reader in Learning and Behaviour at University College London.

He took the Chair at Swansea in 2003.

Phil's research interests include:

  • learning and memory
  • schedules of reinforcement
  • autism and the effectiveness of early interventions for children with autistic spectrum problems
  • schizophrenia and visual hallucinations.

He has published over 130 papers in peer-reviewed journals on these topics, has been invited to present his work at international conferences in: Belgium, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Poland, and the U.S.A., as well as frequently being key-note speaker at national conferences on autism.

Phil is the editor of a new volume entitled: Behavioral Theories and Interventions for Autism, which will be published this year. Phil has served as Editor, and on the Editorial Board, for: Behavior and Philosophy, European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, Journal of Behavioral Consultation and Therapy, and Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior.

Phil has Government appointments for the Department of Education (Special Educational Needs), and Department of Health, as well as on the Welsh Assembly’s Children in Wales Policy Council. 


Interview with Professor Phil Reed

AutismoABA would like to thank Professor Phil Reed for his consideration to do this interview.

The interview has been divided into two parts. In the first one, we discuss the effectiveness of ABA through a recent article published by Dr. Reed.

At the end, we include an Excel file with some (not all) statistical data concerning this article (formats: Excel 2007 and Excel 2003)

In the second part we discuss the situation of ABA in Europe and in Britain (Professor Reed's country).


The Efectiveness of ABA

In the year 2007, Professor Reed, Lisa Osborne and Mark Corness wrote an interesting article concerning ABA efectiveness in comparison with other approaches to autism: 

"The real-world effectiveness of early teaching interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder.
Phil Reed, Lisa A. Osborne, Mark Corness. Exceptional Children. Summer 2007 v73 i4 p417(17)."

The effectiveness of 3 early teaching interventions (applied behavior analysis [ABA], special nursery placement, and portage) for children with autism spectrum disorder was studied in a community-based sample over 10 months. Measures of autism severity as well as intellectual, educational, and adaptive behavioral function were administered. In contrast to reports in some previous research (Lovaas, 1987), there was no evidence of recovery from autism. Children in the ABA condition made greater intellectual and educational gains than children in the portage program. They also made greater educational gains than students in the nursery program. Furthermore, the nursery program produced larger gains than the portage program in adaptive functioning.

Author's Abstract

Therefore, the interview covers some major questions about this article.

  • Professor Reed, why the reference to "the real-world effectiveness" in the title?

The article refers to “real world effectiveness” as it is really focused on finding out how well these various interventions work in practice, that is, in the home, or in the school, rather than in a very controlled ‘clinic’ setting.

This seems to me to be a very important thing to find out, as, in the end, this is how these interventions will be experienced by the vast majority of people, and it is very important to see how the effectiveness of these various interventions translate from the clinic, or the laboratory, to the home.

  • What are the main findings of your study?

The main findings of the article show that ABA is a very effective method for dealing with many of the problems experienced by children with autism, particularly in terms of their intellectual and educational skills. It also shows that some other approaches (by no means all other approaches), particularly some forms of special nursery provision, can be effective as well.

These other interventions may not be as good as ABA overall, but they do still produce improvements, especially in terms of social functioning. It’s this last aspect, social functioning, that I think holds many of the keys for the future for people with autism, and it is an area that we need to pay a lot more attention to in terms of how ABA improves this aspect of functioning for those with autism.

  • How do your study results differ from others studies like Howard et al. (for example)?

The results of our study actually fit very well with those of other studies of ABA effectiveness, and they extend them in terms of the application to ‘real world’ settings, and in terms of examining a wider range of other interventions. All of these studies are showing that ABA is among the very best interventions for autism, and, in many cases, these studies are showing it to be the best intervention.

Our study differs from some previous studies, like that of Howard and colleagues, in terms of showing that some of these other approaches can also be effective. Of course, this is not a novel finding, and some other studies, like that of Charman and colleagues, also show this result too.

I think that the main difference between the studies that show that interventions such as special nursery are effective, and the studies that do not show this effect, is that the other provisions in our study, and that of Charman and colleagues, were very well resourced, and they often contain a high degree of ABA in them (such as was found by Osborne and myself recently).

  • Are there other studies with similar results as yours?

As I mentioned above, most studies are now showing very similar findings; they are all saying that the ABA is very effective. Many of these studies have been reviewed in a number of places, and the story is very consistent.

  • What are the basic limitations of your study and what needs to be taken in account in new studies? Your study is developed over a 10 month period. Do you plan to do a future follow-up?

Of course, all studies have some limitations, and ours is no exception. The major issue that we would have liked to have been able to collect more information about is exactly what happened, day-to-day, during the various forms of intervention.

Our main goal was to ask: as they are applied in ‘real’, as opposed to controlled settings, are ABA or special nursery effective? However, when you assess and measure things outside of the laboratory, you do lose some control about what is being done during the course of these interventions – that is the ‘real world’! It would be really useful to know precisely what aspects of these interventions are important.

Lisa Osborne and I have published a report on this subsequently, and we found that the presence of reinforcement-based therapy is very important in any form of intervention, but we’d like to do more on this. We have also looked in a lot of detail about the role of parents in this process, they are often overlooked, and their role can be pivotal to the whole process.

ABA in Europe


During the first six years of EABA, we focused on developing the identity of the organisation, promoting it, and making people aware that there is a lot of Behaviour Analysis going on in Europe, both in the Universities and outside. We did this through organising four conferences in those six years, and laid some very strong foundations for the future development of the organisation.

A lot of people were extremely enthusiastic and helpful in this process, and they kindly helped to get the message about EABA out to many people across Europe and beyond. Over the last year, I haven’t heard what the new board are doing with the organisation, and we will have to wait and see about that.

  • EABA seems to be mainly geared toward academics. Is there a plan to include more practical activities and issues (legal, legislative, etc ) that involve parents, teachers, etc.?

I’m not sure that I would agree totally with that statement. I think that a lot of practitioners, and people working in ABA schools, have also been involved in EABA, and have played a very important role. However, it is true that a lot of academics are involved, and they have put a lot of work into the development of the organisation.

Behaviour Analysis does depend on both the basic and the applied aspects, and I wouldn’t like to see either of those two aspects become dominant.

Getting the message out to parents, and teachers, is very important, and this needs to be done in a very inclusive way – we can’t ‘brow beat’ people to agree that ABA is important, and making positive contact with such groups, and their organisations, will be important.

We also need to be very careful about understanding how universities in Europe work, and how the various professional training courses suggested for ABA may potentially fit into these institutions.

The current BCBA is not ideally structured to be taught in European universities, and this needs some thought, and these universities will be very important in establishing the training for future Behaviour Analysts – hence, the importance of academics in the organisation.

We really need to build teaching capacity to produce well qualified and experienced people who can deliver high quality ABA programmes to people who need them.

  • In your country what is the actual situation in respect to ABA?

In the U.K., ABA is probably in the same situation as it is across many European countries. There is some resistance to ABA, but I can see things changing slowly; it is not so much that ABA, in the way that ‘purists’ would hope, is taking over in many situations, but the use of ABA in many contexts is now occurring; local authorities do employ behaviour analysts, and behaviour analysts advise as part of teams, as do speech and language therapists, occupational psychologists.

This is probably how it should be, I don’t think any of us are arrogant enough to assume that we have the answers to everything, but it is encouraging to see ABA practitioners being listened too, at last.

Of course, the situation is never as good as we hope it will be, and all we can do is engage in a positive manner with other professionals, and try to reduce some of the antagonism that has been generated previously.

ABA_Efectiveness_2007_P-Reed.xlsx29.58 KB
ABA_Efectiveness_2007_P-Reed.xls66 KB
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