Converting to a Behavior Analysis Format for Autism Services: Decision-Making for Educational Administrators, Principals, and Consultants
Jacobson, John W., The Behavior Analyst Today
This article is intended to orient school administrators and managers to the existing evidence for usefulness of ABA-based instruction for children with autism spectrum disorders, and to identify salient aspects of the educational system and setting that should be addressed by consultants when newly implementing ABA-based instruction. No one dimension of ABA implementation in schools is fully addressed--rather, selected recommendations are included and readers are directed to the primary sources cited throughout.
The Need to Provide Behavioral Education Services to Children
Presently one of the areas of greatest controversy in special education is the development of intensive educational services for children with autism. Parents often arrive at preschools and schools and with their preschooler or primary schooler in tow, and high expectations for performance by the educational system. These expectations have been fueled by a variety of factors, not least of which is the emergence of a body of research studies demonstrating that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can realize very extensive benefits from intensive, behavioral educational intervention, in many instances benefits that include apparent and enduring recovery from the effects of ASD.
Although parental expectations for intensive intervention, and related benefits, may appear unrealistic at first blush to teams, principals, and educators who are not experienced in behavioral educational approaches, in fact there are several sources that have documented that these expectations are not out of line. A number of evaluation studies of intensive early intervention services have shown that substantial and continuing gains can be realized, including very substantial benefits for about half of the children referred at an early age, and varying benefits for others. These include studies by Anderson, Avery, DiPietro, Edwards, and Christian (1987), Graff, Green, & Libby (1998), Lovaas (1987), Perry, Cohen, and DeCarlo (1995).
Findings have suggested that more intensive rather than moderately intensive educational participation, and inception of services at an earlier age are associated with greater benefit (Birnbrauer & Leach, 1993; Fenske, Zalenski, Krantz, & McClannahan, 1985). But, either one of these considerations rules out value of interventions that begin upon primary school entry, and involve heightened instructional intensity, through an extended school day, extended school year, or parental participation as therapists in home and community.
The research foundations upon which behavior analytic strategies in autism education are based are extremely broad and well-developed, and, indeed, the research underpinning these strategies in educating children with autism is more extensive than the research foundation for any other educational model for children with ASD (Matson, Benavidez, Compton, Paclwaskyj, & Baglio, 1996). This conclusion, and the conclusions that behavioral approaches (a.k.a. applied behavior analysis--ABA--or behavior analysis) are of recognized utility and encompass instructional procedures with recognized utility, are supported by government reports from California and New York, an administrative review in Maine, and in a recent report on mental health by the Surgeon General of the United States (Collaborative Work Group on Autistic Spectrum Disorders, 1997; Department of Health, 1999; Department of Health and Human Services, 1999; MADSEC Autism Taskforce, 1999).
Although researchers and evaluators might be occasionally accused (usually entirely unjustified) of having a vested interest in reaching conclusions that reflect well on the services they provide, no such factors taint, however faintly, the conclusions of the comprehensive governmental reports cited above. The Surgeon General, New York, and Maine reports directly cite the benefits of ABA strategies in serving children with ASD, while the California report stresses the importance of a wide range of educational program characteristics that in turn are conspicuously present in ABA-based educational programs.
Because contemporary education has not been a strongly research-based profession (Grossen, 1997), many educators and educational administrators may find research studies to be an insufficient basis to consider ABA as an organizing approach for educational intervention selection. In this context, it is important to stress that ABA also has the best and most comprehensively documented outcomes in terms of their impact on children with ASD in educational settings, substantially exceeding the breadth of those for other, popular, approaches such as TEACCH (Division TEACCH, 1996) or floor-time (Greenspan, 1992).
Educators also should be aware that while progressive or constructionist educational philosophies have flowered as touchstones of educational development, parents remain largely unimpressed with these philosophies, and focus on the bottom line of educational and developmental outcomes for their children. Correspondingly, as the role of parents as members of educational teams becomes further cemented under IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as amended, outcome orientation in individual educational planning will become increasingly important.
Parental expectations are one very important reason for schools to consider instituting educational services for children with ASD that are organized around behavioral instruction. As discrepancies between available or offered services and parental expectations and knowledge of applicable instructional technologies have increased, so too have school expenses, in time and money, for due process (Jacobson, in press). Moreover, both during the school years and into vocational transition and adulthood, early, or at least earlier, intensification of behavioral education makes sense financially, if for no other reason than avoidance of greatly expanded future expenditures for special and related services (Jacobson & Mulick, 2000; Jacobson, Mulick, & Green, 1998).
Although the reasons why are not well understood, there is every indication that increasing numbers of children with ASD are entering schools every year (Department of Education, 1999). School administrators and directors of special education who do not seek to balance philosophical considerations with pragmatic considerations of earlier educational benefit and later diminished need for support for children in later school years, who focus on meeting today's financial targets to the exclusion of future cost, may find themselves facing rapidly escalating special education expenses within the span of a few years. Cost modeling, as noted above, suggests that the …
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Publication information: Article title: Converting to a Behavior Analysis Format for Autism Services: Decision-Making for Educational Administrators, Principals, and Consultants. Contributors: Jacobson, John W. - Author. Journal title: The Behavior Analyst Today. Volume: 1. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2000. Page number: 6+. © 2007 Behavior Analyst Online. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.