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 Convincing Your School to Allow ABA

- Tuesday, February 02, 2010
A parent asked me for advice on how to convince a school system to use ABA so I am going to attempt to answer that question in this blog. 

I have to admit that this topic is not something that I am in any way an expert on. I have attended aWrightslaw Workshop and read some of his books and materials on his web site. I lived in Florida the past few years and the school system in Bay County had two BCBAs working for their Autism Program and their classrooms were set up using the principles of behavior analysis so I don't have much practice convincing schools to use ABA. My recommendations are going to be based mostly on opinion with a few resources sprinkled in.

My first piece of advice is straight from Wrightslaw but also from my own experiences over the years: BUILD A RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCHOOLS. The old saying "you get more bees with honey" is so very true. I know it can be tempting to go into meetings with the school on the defensive and with an attitude, but I can guarantee you this will probably not get you anywhere! Instead go in with a smile on your face and ready to listen to what your school is offering. Praise them for all of their hard work (even if there hasn't been much hardwork) and make a lot of statements such as "I am so happy that you have my son's best interest in mind" "You all are wonderful for what you do, you have such patience" etc This will help when trying to make your point later. 

The next piece of advice I have is: HAVE YOUR DATA READY. Hopefully you have already been receiving some ABA before starting school or at least while in school. It is very important for you or your behavior analyst to have the raw data and a nice data summary of skills mastered since starting ABA. An ABLLS-R grid or VB-MAPP grid would be nice too in order to show skill progression. A nice way to summarize the data would be a cumulative graph of skills mastered by month or week. If you need help making this graph please let me know. Another nice summary of data would be anything showing reductions in behaviors such as tantrums. There are two reasons for having data: one it is hard to argue with data it is very objective. The second is the schools are required by law to use evidence based methods so if you have data to show this method is working for your child, and you say you would like for these same methods to be used in school because of the "data based decision making requirement." 

I also recommend following all of the tips set out by Wrightslaw in the book From Emotions to Advocacy. Pete Wright and his wife have been working in this area for a long time and their book is based on their experiences with the schools so it only makes sense to follow their recommendations.

My biggest recommendation is to try breaking things down a bit. Maybe the school has already been resistant to ABA or maybe they have misconceptions about ABA or have no idea what ABA is. It might be more helpful to recommend techniques rather than asking directly for ABA. For instance, request that your child's IEP goals be derived from the ABLLS/VB-MAPP (you could tell the school that you were looking up IEP goal developing resources and came across the ABLLS/VB-MAPP or you could offer a few of your own IEP goals looking at the ABLLS/VB-MAPP yourself or having your behavior analyst make recommendations. It is important if you do this though to share the ideas with the team prior to the IEP so they don't think you are springing it on them and if the school is really resistant you might not want to say how you came up with those ideas) or that your child receive access to preferred items contingent on performance (typically this would be called reinforcement) or that your child receive assistance and have tasks broken down (prompting and shaping). It might be much easier to directly add in notes/parent requests like this then to ask for an overhaul of their system. If they see these things working, it might also help for some buy in for future additions of ABA methodologies. 

I would also recommend referring them to the following reports/resources that show that ABA is THE established method for teaching children with autism. Because of the data based decision making requirement showing them these resources will help. Some suggestions on how you could bring these up "I know you all have (child's name) best interest in mind and I recently came across these reports that detail which autism interventions are effective and which ones are not. I thought they would be helpful for you all when deciding what interventions to use. I know you have to use data based decision making so hopefully these reports will help you all to decide what methods are evidence based. Who knows the reports might even help the school district to avoid law suits in the future ***don't say that if you are planning on suing the school and/or make sure to say it in a joking tone!***Here are the reports:

National Autism Center's Evidence Based Practice and Autism in the Schools ***I haven't read this yet but it is probably the best one!

I would also recommend this book for yourself and teachers because it lays out what methods are necessary for autistic children to thrive in the classroom. While you can't force the school to use ABA, they do have to use evidence based practice and this book is another summary of what practices are evidenced based for autistic children. Educating Children with Autism

If you all have any behavior analysts in the area, I would also recommend seeing if any of them would do a free workshop for teachers where they show videos and basic techniques in order to get some more buy in from the school system. 

Those are my recommendations. I hope they are helpful. I will leave you all with this Success story from Wrightslaw about how one mom was able to get ABA for her child from the schools. Also, if you have any specific questions related to this topic, please feel free to ask and I will give my input on the more specific questions as well.

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