12 Jul 2011

The Brown Center for Autism and ABA

Autism 20 Comments

This is going to seem like a very curt post given the subject matter. The problem is that I’ve been waiting for the time to “do it right” and that never presents itself.

My son Clark was diagnosed on the autism spectrum in late summer 2009. We began sending him to the Brown Center for Autism, which was absolutely amazing. Literally within the first week, I noticed a big improvement–I could take Clark (4-and-a-half at the time) to the mall and didn’t need to hold his hand. (Before, if you ever were foolish enough to let go of his hand while walking around, he would bolt like an Olympic sprinter.) So the people at the Brown Center literally changed that within one week.

Clark’s mother has made two videos to promote autism awareness and bring publicity to the Brown Center. They use Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which I loved because (a) it doesn’t involve drugs and (b) it works. I am not saying it would work for every young kid with autism, I am just saying it literally transformed our son in the year he spent at the Brown Center. So I encourage other parents–or other people in the field who might not know the efficacy of ABA–to look into what they’re doing at the Brown Center.

In the future I will write more on this topic. For what it’s worth, one of the reasons I am motivated to become rich is so I can write big checks to the Brown Center so that parents of limited means can afford to send their kids there. (The Brown Center is not extravagant by any stretch, but their treatment approach requires a very high staff/child ratio and so it’s expensive.)

Anyway here are the videos, and here is the link to donate to the Brown Center if anyone is so motivated.

Rachael & Clark part one from yesisaidyes.com on Vimeo.

Rachael & Clark part two. from yesisaidyes.com on Vimeo.

20 Responses to “The Brown Center for Autism and ABA”

  1. David R. Henderson says:

    Bob, You and Rachael are good parents. Thanks for doing this. And especially, given your goal to contribute money, may the budget negotiators in Washington set your marginal and average tax rate at zero.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Thanks David, though that probably won’t happen…

  2. MS says:

    Bob, talking about autism is really important. I can relate. My girlfriend has two autistic sons.

    Thank you for posting this.

  3. Brandon says:

    Here’s a great Dream Theater song about autism, though I don’t know how accurate it actually is.

  4. Brandon says:

    Of course I would forget to post the link.


  5. Art says:

    Bob – I will make a donation to the Brown Center as a way of thanking you for all your free advice!

    Also, have you looked at dietary issues? I am very impressed in what some people have achieved. See here, for example: http://bodyecology.com/autism.php

    And read some of the recovery stories here: http://bedrokcommunity.org/

  6. Anonymous says:

    Just how expensive is the center?

    • bobmurphy says:

      Well I don’t want to say a number, because maybe they did a sliding scale based on people’s ability to pay or something (not sure exactly). But I paid more than private school tuition would have been, for the year Clark was there.

  7. Luke says:

    Great to see charity at work. I will keep the Brown Center on my list.

  8. Brian Shelley says:

    “The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires;” – Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

    “For what it’s worth, one of the reasons I am motivated to become rich is so I can write big checks to the Brown Center so that parents of limited means can afford to send their kids there.” – Bob Murphy

    God was a genius.

  9. Jay says:

    Bob, you may want to think about using goodsearch.com it is a great every day way to support your favorite charity/non-profit.

    I goodsearch and goodshop for the Mises Institute.

  10. Rebecca says:

    Bob, our son got diagnosed 14 months ago on the spectrum.

    We love ABA therapy. In 4 sessions they were able to get our son to stop hurting his sister.

    I wish we could afford an intensive program for him.

  11. navone2 says:


    barry neal kaufman rocks, read his books, autism or no !

  12. GSL says:

    So glad to hear your family is doing well. Caring for an autistic child can be very, very hard.

  13. TGGP says:

    It seems to me that the videos were mislabeled. Part 2 has the background, and part 1 starts where part 2 had left off.

  14. Dan (DD5) says:


    Let me ask you this: If a child regresses while he is subjected to ABA treatment, should I attribute the regression to the therapy, and conclude that ABA can make your child worse off?

    I am not asking this to be a wise guy or anything, but simply because this topic is also very personal for me having also a child with development issues, and I find ABA to be a total sham.

    • bobmurphy says:


      Well if it doesn’t seem to work for your kid, then yeah I would say stop doing it. But before making that call, you would want to try to isolate all the possible causes. All I know is that the people at the Brown Center follow “evidence-based therapy,” meaning that they keep detailed records to chart progress of the kids on objective measures. It worked really well on my son, not so much on others. I can’t prove what did it–maybe it was Clark’s mother and me putting in so much time at home too–but I know it worked with Clark.

      • Dan (DD5) says:

        Bob said: ” I can’t prove what did it–maybe it was Clark’s mother and me putting in so much time at home too….”

        Yeah, basically that was my whole point. I’m all for the approach that it is what you and your wife think works best for your son (and for you guys).

        My problem specifically is not with ABA per se, but with what most of its advocates claim about it – typically that it is scientifically proven to work or that it is a scientifically based approach and all such claims. I find no compelling evidence whatever to support such ambitious claims and I have done research to the point of going mad. Many people who support ABA claim otherwise, but I find their standards for what actually amounts to science to be extremely poor. Sort of like the people referring to all sorts of “evidence” that taxes grow the economy.

        The problem with personal accounts is that they reveal almost nothing about the efficacy of the treatment itself. There are to many variables, short term and long term. My son has had the biggest regression just prior to 3 yrs of age and just shortly after starting a 15 hour/ week ABA program. Am I allowed to conclude that ABA has made it worse just as those who credit it for making things better? Do we cancel each other out? I think you see where I’m going with this.

    • RachaelAnne says:

      Hi Dan,

      Thanks for reading the post about our child; this is Rachael, Clark’s mom. I am sorry to hear you are frustrated with your child’s therapy. Making therapeutic decisions is difficult, and every thing you try is so expensive.

      It’s true that ABA does not have the same results for everyone. However, it’s also true that after implementing an ABA program, you usually see an initial uptick in target behaviors. It’s extremely common for the child to resist the changes–both the changes expected of him/her, and the changes in the actions of the people around him/her.

      Another crucial aspect of ABA is consistency–ideally, everyone who spends significant time with the child is treating the target behavior in the same way. Intermittently reinforced behavior is pretty much impossible to eliminate. When parents (and often, other caregivers) are still learning the ABA approach, it’s difficult to immediately see results.

      When Clark first started at the Brown Center, he cried so much. He started having screaming fits about every little thing instead of just his usual triggers. Six days in, we arrived home in the afternoon and I opened his car door and suggested we get the mail–just like we’d done every other day for months. He began screaming and flailing around. I sat down right there in the garage and bawled. It was all just so hard–and we had signed a year contract at the Brown Center. But once he realized how serious we all were, he came around and began complying more and more, and once he began regularly communicating in a way we could understand, everything changed for the better.

      Where are you looking for research to support (or disprove) the efficacy of ABA? Just curious, because I know I was able to find it. I used a database at a university library to search scholarly journals. If you want to talk to someone who is well-versed in the research and very familiar with early intervention, call Juli Liske at the Brown Center: 615.385.7994. You can also email her at juli(dot)liske(at)thebrowncenter(dot)org. She has worked with parents for years, and guided many families through diagnosis and treatment.

      Whatever decisions you make for your family, I wish you all the best.


      • Dan (DD5) says:

        Thank you Rachel.

        I begin to respond to how I did my research a few years ago, but then I stopped, thought for a moment, and just deleted it. I know how extremely difficult it can be and if you found something that you feel is making a difference, then that is all that matters.

        I also wish you all the best.