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Ole Ivar Lovaas, autism treatment pioneer, dies

LOS ANGELES - Ole Ivar Lovaas, a University of California-Los Angeles psychology professor who pioneered one of the standard treatments for autism, has died. He was 83.

He had been recovering from surgery for a broken hip and developed an infection, according to a family member. Lovaas died Monday at a hospital in Lancaster, north of Los Angeles. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease a few years ago.

Lovaas' 1987 paper, "Behavioral Treatment and Normal Educational and Intellectual Functioning in Young Autistic Children," showed for the first time that intensive one-to-one therapy early in life could eliminate symptoms of the disorder in some cases. He described some of his research subjects as having "recovered," a concept that remains controversial but appealed to parents and helped launch an industry that provides the treatment to growing numbers of children.

As a young professor at UCLA, Lovaas found his first research subjects in the 1960s in state mental institutions. Most didn't speak or know how to use a bathroom. One boy repeatedly punched himself in the head. Using the principles of Applied Behavioral Analysis, which relies on reward and punishment, he helped get some out of state facilities, at least temporarily. It was his first inkling that such children could be helped. His early work was controversial because it employed electric shocks delivered with a cattle prod - a technique he later renounced in favor of milder methods, including the use of treats, strict orders and access to favorite activities.

Born in Norway on May 8, 1927, Lovaas often said that the Nazis had sparked his interest in human behavior. His middle-class family lived in the farm town of Lier, near Oslo, and was forced to work the fields during the Nazi occupation of the 1940s. - Los Angeles Times

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