What Federal Law Requires of Public Schools’ Autism Programs
Parenting kids with autism can at times be overwhelming. Navigating educational programming often proves especially frustrating to parents and other caregivers.
But, administering a program serving children with autism in public schools comes with its own challenges, doesn’t it?
- Making sure you have enough related services staff to give students diagnosed with autism the services they need and the law requires.
- Monitoring providers’ caseloads and schedules.
- Helping Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) teams develop appropriate and worthwhile goals.
- Securing the materials and money necessary for a robust, responsible autism program.
- Keeping the lines of communication with those overwhelmed and frustrated parents open.
The list could (and does) go on.
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS, Inc.), we’ve been helping administrators like you design and implement effective programs to serve students with autism for more than two decades.
We staff those programs with extremely qualified and innovative behavior analysts, who realize children’s families are a diverse group. They have much to offer in the pursuit of effective programming, and we’re committed to helping them do so.
We’re also committed to making administrators’ jobs easier by managing our clients’ programs on a day-to-day basis. We free up administrators to focus on larger issues and long-term goals, including closer collaboration with students’ families.
Here’s a brief overview of what autism programs in public schools need to know and do to position their students for success. We’ll also give you some questions administrators and families can ask to evaluate autism programs together.
What Federal Law Requires of Public Schools’ Autism Programs
Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal law requires that school districts provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students with disabilities, including students with autism spectrum disorder.
The law’s 2004 revision revolutionized how school districts design and support students in their autism programs. It mandates schools conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) for students when their behavior impedes their own or their peers’ learning.
All behaviors, including challenging and undesired ones, serve a purpose. The FBA is an essential part of the “detective work” therapists do to discover those purposes. It becomes the basis for an individualized plan to decrease inappropriate behaviors and increase appropriate ones.
In addition to FBAs, effective programs for children with autism in public schools utilizes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) principles and Verbal Behavior (VB) methodology to improve student outcomes.
Basic Principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
ABA is the science of studying behavior and applying data-supported, evidence-based techniques to increase or decrease behaviors that are meaningful or adverse to the individual and their social environment.
ABA-trained behavioral health professionals analyze socially significant behavior in need of improvement by:
- Defining behavior in objective and measurable terms.
- Collecting, examining, and interpreting data as part of the teaching process.
- Examining the functional relationship between behavior (what a person does) and its controlling variables (what happens in the environment).
- Understanding behavior through a three-term contingency, the “ABCs of ABA”: the antecedent (what happens before the behavior), the behavior itself (what the behavior looks like), and the consequence (what happens after the behavior).
Basic Principles of Verbal Behavior (VB) Therapy
Verbal Behavior is what we do in most of our interactions with other people. It is communication. VB therapy pays focused attention to the functional analysis of language. It looks at the conditions under which a person will use language—why we say what we say.
To teach “what to say” as well as “when to say it,” the VB approach classifies language into the following purposes or operants:
Request (you say it because you want it).
Label (you say it because you see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something).
Conversation, answering a question, or responding when someone else talks (you say it because someone else asked you a question or made a comment).
Repeating what someone else says (you say it because someone else said it).
Repeating someone else’s motor movements (you move because someone else moved the same way).
- Listener Responding/Receptive
Following directions (you do what someone else asks you to do).
Considering this analysis is a critical step in developing language programs for individuals with autism, connecting words with their purposes helps them learn they can use words to meet their wants and needs.
It’s important students with autism learn to use language under the right conditions. For example, they can learn the difference between saying “water” when they are thirsty and want water, and saying “water” because a therapist showed them a picture of it and asked, “What is it?”
VB therapy can include speaking, sign language, writing, gesturing, picture exchange systems, and the use of various augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices.
What Administrators and Parents Should Ask of Autism Programs
ABA and VB therapy are the theoretical principles for successful autism programs in public education. But, parents and administrators alike need ways to evaluate how well the school district’s current program is putting those principles into practice.
When administrators and families recognize and affirm their common interest in seeing children with autism in public schools succeed, some of the tension and friction that too often develops can ease.
Here are nine questions administrators and families can and should ask of an autism program to determine how effectively it can help students achieve their educational goals:
- What type of training do your teachers receive? How often?
- Do you have any Board Certified Behavior Analysts® (BCBAs®) on staff?
- Are they licensed with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board® (BACB®) and through the state?
- How many behavior therapists and Registered Behavior TechniciansTM (RBTs®) do you have?
- How much direct supervision do therapists receive from BCBAs? Weekly? Monthly?
- What does a typical ABA/Verbal Behavior teaching session in your program look like?
- How do you determine students’ goals? Do you consider parental input?
- How do you monitor and evaluate students’ progress?
- How often does your program analyze academic and behavioral data?
Let PTS Support Your Programs for Students with Autism
PTS’ behavior analysts and behavioral health therapists support programs for students with autism in public schools in a variety of ways.
We offer tiered levels of expertise depending on individual students’ needs and the needs of autism support programs. We work with administrators to establish protocols that will ensure resources are directed to and triaged by the appropriate specialist.
Our approach to behavioral health charts a collaborative path for teachers, related service professionals, and behavior analysts/therapists, ensuring the whole team is on the same page.
When PTS meets your program’s behavioral health needs, both you and the families of the children with autism you serve can be confident your program is doing the most good for them! To find out more, call us at 610-941-7020, or contact us online.