Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for autism

Status: Decision completed

Policy context

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy is a specialized intervention for children with autism and is proposed as an effective program. However, there is a very limited, but growing body of literature on the efficacy of ABA and other interventions designed to improve core deficits associated with autism. The therapy is not widely associated with safety concerns, though this should be confirmed. It is important to attempt to identify and define medically appropriate evidence-based interventions for children with autism. For ABA, important questions center on whether ABA therapy is efficacious to treat clinically important patient health outcomes, which patients benefit or benefit the most; what are the costs and whether the treatment is cost effective.

Primary criteria ranking

  • Safety = Low
  • Efficacy = High
  • Cost = High

Assessment timeline

  • HTCC public meeting: June 17, 2011


The supplemental information was commissioned by the Washington HTA program to: (1) excerpt the behavioral intervention component of the systematic review conducted for AHRQ by Warren et al. 2011 and (2) to provide supplemental information on guidelines, cost and coverage policies to meet Washington's HTA program requirements.

The HTA program strives to make economical use of state resources and not duplicate high quality clinical evidence reviews. In this case, WA state was a nominator to AHRQ for the topic of ABA Therapy of treatment of Autism, and this topic was incorporated into the broader systematic review that AHRQ conducted on all therapies for treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Thus, a separate clinical evidence search is not applicable here, as the clinical evidence search and summary is included in the systematic review prepared for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), Comparative Effectiveness of Therapies for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, (Warren et al., 2011).