Peat NI

What is Autism?

Autism is a developmental disorder that impacts on how an individual relates to the world and others around them. The diagnosis can impact on language skills, social skills and understanding other peoples behaviours.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD, Autism, and Aspergers Syndrome) is a developmental disorder that is reported to be a lifelong condition (although some individuals have been reported to no longer fulfil the diagnostic criterion following ABA intervention).

Autism affects how a person:

  • Communicates and relates to other people
  • Relates and makes sense of the world around them
  • Forms and maintains friendships (this is generally limited)
  • Reads emotions displayed by other people
  • Recent statistics suggest that the current prevalence rate of children being diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder is 1 child in 68. (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention)

As a spectrum disorder, each person diagnosed with an ASD will be affected in different ways. Some people will be able to live independent lives with the minimum of support required whereas others may have associated learning difficulties, which may require more intensive support and intervention.

Autism is a label to describe excesses and/or deficits in behaviour in three main areas; commonly referred to as the triad of impairments.

  • Social interaction (difficulty with social relationships, for example appearing aloof and indifferent to other people, liking to be alone)
  • Social communication (difficulty with verbal and non-verbal communication, for example not fully understanding the meaning of common gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice)
  • Imagination (difficulty in the development of interpersonal play and imagination, for example having a limited range of imaginative activities, possibly copied and pursued rigidly and repetitively).

In addition to this triad, repetitive behaviour patterns and resistance to change in routine are often apparent. Sensory issues, such as hypersensitivity to light, smell or even touch can also occur which can make daily routines and community activities unpleasant and difficult. Again, these are issues that can be made manageable with the support of a behaviour analyst.

Possibly the most distressing characteristic of Autism is the emergence of challenging and inappropriate behaviours e.g. tantrums and self-injurious behaviours. However, not every individual with a confirmed autism diagnosis will display these extreme or challenging behaviours. For further help in managing challenging behaviour see our “ABA Outreach” section.

Aspergers Syndrome

Aspergers Syndrome is a form of autism that is often used to describe individuals displaying less apparent traits often associated with autism; people would refer to this at as being at the ‘higher functioning end’ of the autism spectrum. Individuals with this diagnosis are often diagnosed later in life (most often coming near to the end of their primary school education) when social deficits become more apparent. The unspoken written rules of life pose challenges to individuals with Aspergers: gentle teasing, identifying a true friend, finding a partner and preparing for work/university. For help and support in supporting an individual with Aspergers please see our “ABA Outreach” section.

As these individuals get older they may be able to be a valuable addition to a workplace with a support network in place to help with difficulties.

Causes of Autism

Currently the exact cause or causes of autism is/are still not known but research suggests that genetic factors play a huge role as well as environmental factors playing a contributing role. Most researchers believe that certain genes inherited from the parent could make a child more susceptible to developing an ASD.

ASD diagnoses have also been known to run in families – if an older child develops an ASD, there is a 5-6% chance that a new child born to the parents may also develop an ASD.

At present, there has been no specific gene linked to ASD and no tests that can screen for ‘ASD genes’.

However, Autism is not caused by inappropriate parenting!

Although a number of different theories have been put forward, none has withstood closer scrutiny.

The search must continue.



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What is Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA)?

Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) is the application of the key principles of the science of behaviour. These principles are then applied to improve socially significant behaviour.

ABA is a science "...devoted to the understanding and improvement of human behavior" (Cooper, Heron and Heward, p. 3). We can, for example, understand ‘why’ behaviour occurs and from this understanding successful interventions can be implemented enabling behaviour change to occur.

Through decades of research the effectiveness of ABA has been validated across numerous populations, settings and behaviours.

Published research has demonstrated the effectiveness of ABA in:

  • Clinical populations: children and young people with developmental disorders e.g. Autism Spectrum Disorder; young people and adults with mental health problems; the institutionalised elderly and young offenders
  • Settings: schools, in the home, young offenders centres/prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, group homes and in businesses
  • Behaviours: social, academic, language, functional life-skills, self-injurious behaviour, aggression, stereotypical behaviours, play skills, toilet training, increasing food acceptance and sleep disturbances

For more information on the effectiveness of ABA in other populations, settings and behaviours the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis provides the most up-to-date research findings.

Alternatively, conducting a search in an Internet search provider can provide vast amounts of information. *PEAT cannot validate the information/strategies provided in these searches*.

Applied behaviour analysis (ABA) is a science that ‘takes’ key findings from the laboratory and applies these findings in the ‘real-world’. The ‘real-world’ includes places such as clinics/schools/the home/shopping centres – anywhere were we can ‘be’!

Behaviour, be it appropriate behaviour or inappropriate behaviour, occurs everywhere. We engage in behaviour whilst we sit at our desk in work, we engage in behaviours (good and bad!) while driving and lots of behaviours occur while socialising or even just sitting at home watching TV. ABA is unique in this sense as we can effectively utilise a science when and where it is required to help change behaviours that may be causing us problems or restricting our access to social outlets.

Think of a young person that has a diagnosis of ASD – would it not benefit them to target behaviours such as using money in a natural setting (shop or the bank), greeting peers in the playground or when they see a friend outside of school, complying with requests at home and many more?

No two people are the same, everyone has their own unique likes and dislikes and it is this individualised approach that makes ABA unique – we tailor each programme based on the specific needs of the individual thereby ensuring a greater chance of success at whatever is being targeted.

The ultimate aim of an ABA based programme is to build socially valuable skills while at the same time replacing behaviours that have built barriers to inclusion with behaviours that are acceptable and age-appropriate that will help ensure inclusion.

Small changes can have huge impacts on an individual with autism.

PEAT takes an active approach in teaching individuals with an ASD how to successfully integrate into everyday situations and settings. These can be situations such as handling transitions from preferred to less preferred activities as well as major transitions within a day.

ABA intervention is not just for young children (although research does suggest the earlier you intervene the better the gains) you can have behaviour analytic support at any stage of your child’s/young person's development. PEAT provide support to children from approximately 18 months to young adults of 23 years old helping with independent living skills.

A common query that PEAT often face is “my son has a diagnosis of Aspergers, can ABA help him?”

The answer is YES!

There is a misconception surrounding the application of behaviour analyis for those at the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum (including Aspergers) that ABA isn’t suitable and can’t help. This is not the case. 

Here are some of the common misconceptions surrounding ABA and the argument to dispel them:

Myth Truth
ABA is only used with children with autism ABA can be used across all populations
Aversives are used in all ABA programmes Aversives avoided (ethically) except in extreme situations (e.g. life threatening self-injury)
ABA is provided in 1:1 settings only ABA can be used in ANY setting: we use ABA in 1:1 settings AND group settings
ABA practitioners only use edibles as ‘rewards’ ABA utilises reinforcement NOT rewards. Reinforcers vary
ABA programmes last two years and the child is ‘cured’ ABA can last a lifetime. Autism cannot be cured (at the moment)
ABA produces ‘robots’ with no spontaneity If skills are generalised and functional, spontaneity occurs naturally
ABA is only for young children There is a growing evidence base for all age groups


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What is a Behaviour Analyst?

Professionals qualified to implement ABA programmes with individuals with autism should be Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (BCBA) or hold equivalent qualifications.

A Board Certified Behaviour Analyst (BCBA) should be appropriately qualified (see for further information) in order to supervise/oversee ABA programmes. 

Eligibility to become a BCBA will be determined by the Behaviour Analyst Certification Board and should include a Master’s degree in Applied Behaviour Analysis (or equivalent) with an appropriate number of independent field work hours and supervisory hours.

Some individuals/programmes may claim to provide ABA, but can lack the education and practical experience. It is important when seeking ABA services to check the credentials of the individuals providing direction and supervision in the programme of the individual. 

A list of qualified Board Certified Behaviour Analysts worldwide can be found on the certification board’s website.

What is an ABA therapist/home tutor?

  • A therapist/home tutor is someone who helps to implement an indivudual’s ABA programme.
  • Therapists/tutor may not necessarily have specific training in ABA or practical experiene to begin with.
  • Therapists/tutors (like the parents) should be guided/supervised by a BCBA in order to properly implement strategies for an individual’s programme.
  • Therapists/tutors may have some theoretical based training in ABA through their studies or one day workshops.
  • Therapists/tutors may have some experience in using ABA in a practical setting from their personal experiences or through work experience and placements.
  • PEAT does not employ therapists directly however we do support families in finding therapists both in paid and voluntary roles.

If you have any questions about taking on a therapist to support your ABA home programme please contact PEAT directly 028 9032 4882.

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Why Choose PEAT

PEAT is a parent-led charity that provides practical behaviour support to all families across Northern Ireland who wish to avail of behaviour analytic intervention in their home environment. PEAT also provides training to organisations/agencies working directly with individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

PEAT employs Board Certified Behaviour Analysts that provide these services across Northern Ireland. Our qualified behaviour analysts aim to empower the parents/professionals with skills on how to effectively understand and manage the behaviour of an individual with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Programmes are individually tailored to the unique needs of the family and our behaviour analysts ensure that parents can feel confident in meeting the needs of the individual with the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

Training events can be tailored to best meet the needs of the organisation.

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Become a Member

Register now to book online training events or to begin the process for full PEAT membership to access services through the organisation.

At PEAT we offer in-home support, school programmes, professional training, community based training, advice and support.

To complete PEAT’s online membership process fill in the ‘Register Now’ below. This registers your details on the PEAT website and will allow you to log in at any time to book training events. (Registration does not constitute membership) When logged in you are required to complete the process for membership and pay the associated membership fee.

To complete your membership for PEAT you are required to go to the ‘Become a Member’ title again, complete the form ‘Apply Now’ select your Membership Type and enter the required details before continuing through to Paypal to complete the payment process.

Membership details and payment notifications will automatically be delivered to PEAT who will contact you directly via email with information and details of your membership.

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Meet the Team

We are a dedicated team of professionals for the delivery of evidence-based practice for children and young people with autism (& related disorders) and other complex behaviour needs. We are committed to empowering people with autism to lead fuller lives through positive educational experiences, training for the people who work with them and support for their families and carers. We deliver tailored outreach and training services to parents, carers, professionals, schools and other organisations.


Mary Rainey

Administrative Officer

Mary joined PEAT in April 2009.  She is responsible for all administrative functions of the charity including Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Membership management and Home Visit appointments as well as any other related activities. Her duties ensure the efficient running of the organisation.


Louise Begley, BCBA

Programme Manager

Louise joined PEAT in July 2015 as a Programme Manager for outreach services in both home and school environments to support children and young people with Autism (suspected and related conditions).

She is a Board Certified Behaviour Analyst and obtaining her Master's Degree in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) through Ulster University. 

Louise spent time as an International Intern at the New England Centre for Children in Massachusetts USA (a private school for children with autism) as well as time working at the New England Centre in Abu Dhabi.  Louise also has previous experience from a challenging behaviour and respite care unit.

Louise is responsible for the evidence-based home/school programmes that she manages Northern Ireland wide as well as the facilitation of Social Skills Programmes.

The History of PEAT

Following a newspaper article in The Belfast Telegraph that documented the success of a young child with Autism following an ABA home programme, Professor Mickey Keenan was inundated from parents across Northern Ireland asking for support for their child.

A public meeting was then organised at the University Of Ulster Coleraine, with approximately 40 parents in attendence to receive practical support in this evidence-based practice. On the back of this, in 1997, Parents’ Education as Autism Therapists (PEAT) was established.

From this, PEAT has gone from strength to strength.

Today, PEAT is a parent-led charity that provides practical behaviour support to all families across Northern Ireland who wish to avail of behaviour analytic intervention in their home environment.

PEAT also delivers training to professionals from a variety of backgrounds (education, health, care providers and employers) who work directly with those with a diagnosis. Training packages are tailored to the needs of the organisation or group. For further information see our section on ‘Services for Professionals’.

Our office base, in Belfast, is the hub of PEAT. All enquiries, be they for information sourcing or a referral process come through the PEAT office and are dealt with in a friendly, knowledgeable manner.

PEAT employs Board Certified Behaviour Analysts that provide these services across Northern Ireland. Our qualified behaviour analysts aim to empower the parents with the knowledge on how to effectively understand and manage the behaviour of the individual in their household with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

All of these programmes are individually tailored to the unique needs of the family and our behaviour analysts ensure that parents can feel confident in meeting the needs of the individual with the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.

PEAT aims to continue growing by continuing to provide support and training to any family or organisation that wishes to avail of any of the services that we offer. 

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