Saturday, April 12, 2008

Autism and Educators' Control Issues in Vernon Connecticut

It looks like an old story is playing out again in Vernon, Connecticut. ABA based instruction for autistic children, provided under contract with an outside agency, is being terminated by the local education authorities and is being brought "in house". As reported in the Journal Inquirer:

VERNON — The local school system’s decision to stop contracting with the Capitol Region Education Council to teach children with autism — and to bring the work in house — has angered parents, who say any change can harm a child with an autistic disorder.


For more than a decade, CREC has taught children with autism at the Center Road School. The organization uses the Applied Behavior Analysis instructional method, which has the approval of the U.S. Surgeon General.

In fact the US Surgeon General is not the only agency to endorse ABA as an effective evidence backed instructional method for autistic children. State agencies in New York and California, the MADSEC Autism Task Force Report from Maine and the 2007 report of the American Academy of Pediatrics have all endorsed ABA as the most evidence based effective intervention for autistic children. As summarized in the 2007 AAP Report Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders:

The effectiveness of ABA-based intervention in ASDs has been well documented through 5 decades of research by using single-subject methodology21,25,27,28 and in controlled studies of comprehensive early intensive behavioral intervention programs in university and community settings.29–40 Children who receive early intensive behavioral treatment have been shown to make substantial, sustained gains in IQ, language, academic performance, and adaptive behavior as well as some measures of social behavior, and their outcomes have been significantly better than those of children in control groups.31–40

So why would a successful program be discontinued and the education of autistic children brought "in house"? Control is often the real motivation for such decisions by alleged "educators" who often know little about autism, and generally know much less than the concerned parents who live 24/7 with the realities of autism. Here in New Brunswick, Canada, much progress has been made in providing autistic students, including my son Conor, with a real education. Autism specific training has begun to be provided to Teacher Aides that work with autistic children and Conor is currently receiving instruction from a UNB Autism Intervention Program trained TA under programs and supervision by autism trained resource teachers. But it was not always the case and even today senior "educators" still resist the commitment by our current government to provide UNB Autism training, which includes ABA based instruction methods, to teacher aides and resource teachers.

The excuses over the years are usually the same. I personally began advocating several years ago for ABA instruction in our schools and a Department of Education spokesman was interviewed as part of a story in which I was featured. The spokesman downplayed ABA and said that the Department was interested in TEACCH. TEACCH has often been described as "promising" but lacking in evidence of effectiveness in teaching autistic children. As summarized in the MADSEC ( Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities) Autism Task Force Report 1999, 2000 (rev.ed.) :

• Substantiated as effective based upon the scope and quality of research:

Applied behavior analysis. In addition, applied behavior analysis’ evaluative procedures are effective not only with behaviorally-based interventions, but also for the systematic evaluation of the efficacy of any intervention intended to affect individual learning and behavior. ABA’s emphasis on functional assessment and positive behavioral support will help meet heightened standards of IDEA ‘97. Its emphasis on measurable goals and reliable data collection will substantiate the child’s progress in the event of due process.

Shows promise, but is not yet objectively substantiated as effective for individuals with autism using controlled studies and subject to the rigors of good science:

Auditory Integration Training, The Miller Method, Sensory Integration, and TEACCH.

Repeatedly subjected to the rigors of science, which leads numerous researchers to conclude the intervention is not effective, may be harmful, or may lead to unintended consequences:

Facilitated Communication.

• Without scientific evaluation of any kind:

Greenspan’s DIR/”Floor Time,” Son-Rise.

In New Brunswick the UNB Autism Intervention Training of teacher aides and resource teachers has been opposed by some senior educators who wanted to do the training ..... "in house" just as the Vernon educators want to provide the instruction of autistic children in house. In each case, the autism training here in New Brunswick, or the autism instruction in Connecticut, it is control which is the real issue, control by the educators. In the Connecticut story the alleged educators want to use non-ABA methods of instructing autistic children, despite the well studied effectiveness of ABA and despite the lack of evidence supporting the effectiveness of other autism instruction methods. One spokesman even acknowledged that one of the methods that they seek to use has NO evidence in support of its effectiveness:

Buell says the ABA method is “not going out the window” and will be used with children who do well with it.

But she said in a written statement that the school system plans to explore a variety of other instructional methods.

With one possible exception, all the methods under consideration have studies supporting their effectiveness, Buell added.

Spokesperson Buell did not elaborate, in the article anyway, about these "other instructional methods" and the studies in support of their effectiveness. Whatever they might be there is no way these other methods enjoy the scope and quality of research in support of their effectiveness, as reported by the Maine MADSEC Autism Task Force in 1999-2000, or the AAP in 2007.

It is not about "other instructional methods".

It is about control.

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