Barriers to Autism Treatment in Northern Ireland

Photo by Yan Ming on Unsplash

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Over the past ten years, the  prevalence of autism in Northern Ireland has increased by several percentage points.  However, a recent article by Karola Dillenburger, Director of the Centre for Behaviour Analysis at Queen’s College in Northern Ireland, suggests that the country needs to do more to support treatment.

Funding and Quality Control

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) lacks funding for the gold standard in autism treatment – Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Though services can be provided out-of-pocket, the are understandably expensive.  Moreover she noted “some practitioners claim to be trained in ABA after taking an hours-long course, and it is difficult for parents to distinguish between credentialed providers and those who lack the appropriate expertise.”


Those who provide autism services funded by the NHS receive little training in autism, are are delivered by pediatricians and others who lack a specialty in behavioral skills acquisition or behavior reduction.  She noted, “some take one- or two-day post-qualifying training courses in autism that may provide an introduction to ABA, but these courses do not adequately cover the science of behavior analysis.”


The larger systems and governing bodies present barriers to the factual dissemination of ABA in the UK.  However, Karola noted that such entities lack Board-Certified Behavior Analysts.  Moreover, she noted that “they refer to ABA as a single commercial intervention, when it is, in fact, the science that underpins almost all evidence-based therapies for autism.”   And it is a science with decades of research.

She recommended that the only way to improve access in the UK is to ensure qualified experts are getting their attention.

What do you think about the situation in the UK?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to read Karola’s full article.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]


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1 Comment

  1. The situation is sad. Here in Mexico, the situation is worse. Public institutions are unaware ABA, and continue to treat cases of autism with classical psychiatry.
    ABA practice is private, and is usually expensive.

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