William Ahearn, PhD, BCBA-D, LABA, director of research at the New England Center for Children, has been sharing research with the greater autism community for more than 20 years. Most recently, he presented his research regarding evidenced-based and best practices in autism treatment at the 24th Annual Meeting of the Maryland Association for Behavior Analysis in early December 2021.
In his presentation, “Evidence-based and best practices in autism treatment: Your mileage may vary,” Dr. Ahearn discussed the differences between best practices (BP) and evidenced-based practices (EBP); the stereotypic behavior intervention research that has been published over the last 15 years; and about NECC-based research on comparing teaching procedures for activities of daily living.
“I have been giving talks on best practices in autism treatment for many years and my goal is always to highlight research being conducted at NECC,” said Dr. Ahearn. “Sharing our work exposes the community to EBPs and BPs for autism intervention and raises visibility of NECC.”
Dr. Ahearn added that as the term best practice has evolved over the years—though it typically refers to using applied research that is tailored to clients’ needs using available resources—he has “added in information about evidence-based procedures as they relate to best practices” to his presentations, as EBPs “are interventions that have a large body of evidence behind them and meet certain criteria as showing a treatment effect,” he explained.
For two decades, Dr. Ahearn’s research group has been evaluating the best practices for treating stereotypy and other repetitive behavior, including the technique referred to as Response Interruption and Redirection (RIRD), a term developed by his team “that has been deemed to be an EBP by an autism treatment clearinghouse,” he shared.
Though the pandemic has forced Dr. Ahearn to pare down his team’s scope of projects, his group is currently “examining applying what we have learned about treating stereotypy to self-injurious behavior; teaching play skills to children with autism; and we recently published a study on assessing and treating anxiety in autistic persons,” he shared.
Dr. Ahearn is the chair of the board that licenses behavior analysts in Massachusetts and serves as editor-in-chief for Behavioral Interventions. He also serves on the editorial board for the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and previously served on the editorial board for the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis for about 20 years. Dr. Ahearn has published extensively, including on the treatment of repetitive behavior, treating pediatric feeding disorders, and examining predictions of the Behavioral Momentum metaphor. He was named the 2009 American Psychological Association – Division 25 awardee for Enduring Contributions to Applied Behavioral Research (Nate Azrin Award) and as CalABA’s 2020 Outstanding Contributor. He is a past-President of APBA and BABAT.