Ole Ivar Lovaas

O. Ivar Løvaas, PhD
Born Ole Ivar Løvaas
8 May 1927
Lier, Norway
Died 2 August 2010
Lancaster, California
Nationality Norwegian
Occupation Clinical Psychology Professor
Employer University of California, Los Angeles – UCLA
Known for Applied behavior analysis
Discrete trial training
Website http://www.lovaas.com/

Ole Ivar Løvaas PhD (8 May 1927 – 2 August 2010)[1][2] was a Norwegian-American clinical psychologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He is considered to be a pioneer within the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) through his development of Discrete trial training (DTT), and was the first to provide evidence that the behavior of children with autism can be modified through teaching.[3] In 1999, the U.S. Office of the Surgeon General described Lovaas's techniques as having been shown to be efficacious at "reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior" which is based on "thirty years of research."[4]

Lovaas method

Dr. Ole Ivar Lovaas received his undergraduate degree in psychology in 1951 from Luther College and doctoral degree in clinical psychology in 1958 from the University of Washington where his work was influenced by early applied behavior analysts such as Sidney W. Bijou, Donald Baer, Montrose Wolf, Todd Risley and James Sherman. While overshadowed in the 1960s and 1970s by work in applied behavior analysis on schizophrenia, teaching models, and general developmental disabilities, Lovaas's intensive application of basic learning principles to autism has become the model for most current behavioral approaches to the condition. Findings of independent peer reviewed and replicated research studies associated with the Lovaas method,[5] have shown that 47% of children can achieve normal functioning and subsequently succeed in regular education without assistance, 43% will make significant progress but continue to demonstrate language delays, 10% will make little progress, though some have disputed these findings.[6] In his original studies in the late 1950s aversives such as electric shock successfully treated many individuals engaging in extreme self-injury (eye gouging, head banging) whose life expectancy was reduced by secondary infection. Subsequent studies were on extinction methods, in which attention is given only when persons are not engaging in self-injury. Lovaas's use of highly aversive methods, uncommon even in his time, are now very rarely used and controversial in the field.[7]

The "Lovaas method" includes high treatment intensity up to 40-hours per week in a 1:1 teaching setting using discrete trials, treatment is done at home with parents involved in every aspect of treatment, the curriculum is highly individualized with a heavy emphasis on teaching language, and ABA principles are used to motivate learning and reduce non-desired behaviors. The "Lovaas Method" went on the become "Early Intensive Behavior Intervention" or "EIBI." In addition to being one of the founders of ABA, Dr. Lovaas taught now prominent behaviorists such as Robert Koegel, Laura Schreibman, Ted Carr, Ron Leaf, Tristram Smith, Doreen Granpeesheh, Jacquie Wynn, Annette Groen, John McEachin and over 20,000 students at UCLA who took his course during his 50 years of teaching. He contributed in major ways to the formation of the Autism Society of America (ASA), published 100s of research articles and books, received state and national awards, and forced school districts to adopt evidenced based teaching programs. His work influenced how autism was treated, and improved the lives of parents and children stricken with the autism diagnosis worldwide.

The whole approach is disputed, though, by advocates of neurodiversity,[8] such as Michelle Dawson or Ari Ne'eman, who claim it forces people to repress their true personalities on behalf of a narrow conception of normality. Edward K. Morris of the University of Kansas has argued that this position grossly misrepresents the actual goals of applied behavior analysis interventions and the standard practices of behavior analysts.[9]

Work with George Rekers on gender-variant children

In addition to his extensive work with autistic children, in the 1970s Lovaas co-authored four papers with George Rekers on children with atypical gender behaviors.[10][11][12][13] The subject of the first of these studies, a feminine young boy who was homosexual of 4 and half years old at the inception of treatment, committed suicide as an adult; his family attribute the suicide to this treatment.[10][14][15][16]

Following his suicide in 2010, the boys' sister told the news that she read his journal which described how he feared to ever disclose his sexual orientation because when receiving the behavior modification treatment as a young boy, his father would give him spankings if he was given a different color "poker chip" as punishment for feminine-like behavior.

Personal life

Lovaas was born in Lier, Norway and was a farm worker during the 1940s Nazi occupation of Norway. After the war, Lovaas earned a music scholarship to Luther College in the American state of Iowa. He earned his undergraduate degree at Luther College and his doctorate in psychology from the University of Washington. Married twice, Lovaas had four children from his first marriage and is survived by six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.[17]



  1. Autism Support Network.
  2. Campbell, Victoria. Pioneer in autism treatment dies,
  3. "Lovaas Revisited: Should we ever have left?", by Steve Buchman, bbbautism.com, Retrieved on 28 January 2009.
  4. Satcher, David (1999). "Mental Health: A report of the Surgeon General". Department of Health and Human Services. pp. 163–164. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
  5. Sallows GO, Graupner TD (2005). "Intensive behavioral treatment for children with autism: four-year outcome and predictors". Am J Ment Retard. 110 (6): 417–38. doi:10.1352/0895-8017(2005)110[417:IBTFCW]2.0.CO;2. PMID 16212446.
  6. Ospina, MB; Krebs Seida, J; Clark, B; Karkhaneh, M; Hartling, L; et al. (2008). "Behavioural and Developmental Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Clinical Systematic Review". PLoS ONE. 3 (11): e3755. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003755. PMC 2582449Freely accessible. PMID 19015734.
  7. Johnston, J.M.; Foxx, Richard M.; Jacobson, John W.; Green, Gina; Mulick, James A. (2006). "Positive Behavior Support and Applied Behavior Analysis". The Behavior Analyst. 29 (1): 51–74. PMC 2223172Freely accessible.
  8. Soloman, Andrew. "The Autism Rights Movement". New York Magazine. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  9. Morris, Edward K. (2009). "A Case Study in the Misrepresentation of Applied Behavior Analysis in Autism: The Gernsbacher Lectures". The Behavior Analyst. 32 (1): 205–240. PMC 2686987Freely accessible.
  10. 1 2 Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar (1974). "Behavioral Treatment of Deviant Sex-Role Behaviors in a Male Child". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 7 (2): 173–190. doi:10.1901/jaba.1974.7-173. PMC 1311956Freely accessible. PMID 4436165.
  11. Rekers, George A.; Lovaas, O. Ivar; Low, Benson (June 1974). "The behavioral treatment of a "transsexual" preadolescent boy". Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2 (2): 99–116. doi:10.1007/BF00919093. PMID 4430820. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  12. Rekers, George A.; Bentler, Peter M.; Rosen, Alexander C.; Lovaas, O. Ivar (Spring 1977). "Child gender disturbances: A clinical rationale for intervention". Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice. 14 (1): 2–11. doi:10.1037/h0087487. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  13. Rekers, George A.; Rosen, Alexander C.; Lovaas, O. Ivar; Bentler, Peter M. (February 1978). "Sex-role stereotypy and professional intervention for childhood gender disturbance". Professional Psychology. 9 (1): 127–136. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.9.1.127. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  14. Bronstein, Scott; Joseph, Jessi (7 June 2011). "Therapy to change 'feminine' boy created a troubled man, family says". CNN. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  15. Szalavitz, Maia (8 June 2011). "The 'Sissy Boy' Experiment: Why Gender-Related Cases Call for Scientists' Humility". Time. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  16. Warren Throckmorton (9 June 2011). "Experts and Homosexuality: Don't Try This at Home". Huffington Post. Retrieved 9 June 2011.
  17. "Ole Ivar Lovaas dies at 83; UCLA psychology professor pioneered autism treatment". Los Angeles Times. 6 August 2010.

Further reading

External links

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