The decision to fund Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) in Northern Ireland marks a turning point in the services available to families with autistic children in Northern Ireland, according to a University of Ulster behaviour analyst.
Dr Keenan, of the University's School of Psychology, has been a driving force behind the development of ABA in Northern Ireland, welcomed the Murray family's victory in gaining funding for ABA treatment for their autistic son Paul, aged seven.
"This is a breakthrough decision," said Dr Keenan, who is based at the University's Coleraine campus. " It opens up hope to parents all over Northern Ireland, who have been campaigning and lobbying for public support for ABA to be made available to help their children."
And Dr Keenan, who has been involved with the parents’ campaign for over seven years, revealed that the University of Ulster is planning a Master's degree in Behaviour Analyis which, he hopes, will go some way to providing much needed highly skilled professionals. However, the feasibility of this course still depends on attracting funding for additional appropriately skilled lecturers.
Dr Keenan, who is a Distinguished Community Fellow of the University and a holder of the British Psychological Society's Award for Promoting Equality of Opportunity (2003), said that current provision prevents parents getting effective programmes of help in educating their children of all ages.
"There is a grave need for more professionals fully trained in the highest standards of ABA in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, there are now eight ABA schools.
"In other countries, for example in California, there is a public policy to offer ABA for at least two years to each child diagnosed with autism immediately after diagnosis. In Ontario there has been a financial commitment for providing ABA since 1999. The Surgeon General in the US said, "Thirty years of research demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in increasing communication, learning, and appropriate social behavior."
Dr. Keenan said: "This decision perhaps marks a turning point for N. Ireland to catch up with the rest of the world in developing an appropriate ABA infrastructure"