Thursday, March 08, 2007

Educating Autistic School Children

One of the best autism blogsites on the internet, in my humble opinion, is "ABA4Autism or other Neuropsychological Disorders" hosted by blogger and Psychologist Dr. Gary Brown, Psychologist/HSP Professor and Chair Department of Psychology University of Tennessee, Martin, Tennessee. In a recent blog Dr. Brown described as "criminal" the use by school systems of special ed teachers with no ABA training to teach autistic children.

In New Brunswick a similar problem has existed for far too long but it is in the process of being corrected. Teachers with no autism specific training and Teachers Aides/Assistant's without any training have been engaged in "teaching" autistic children, usually in the mainstream classroom regardless of the autistic child's environmental sensitivity issues, development level, curriculum content or preferred method of learning. Steps have been taken to remedy this problem though. Within the last two years some Resource teachers and teachers aides have been trained at the UNB-CEL Autism Intervention Training program at the University of New Brunswick campus in Fredericton New Brunswick and more on the way with the current government committed to training an additional 100 resource teachers and aides for each of the next four years at the UNB-CEL AIT program.

Despite the presence of a strong, politically connected lobby which has pushed hard to have ALL children regardless of disability educated in the mainstream classroom in New Brunswick, reality has dictated otherwise. Some school districts and schools have already departed from adherence to the mainstream classroom for all philosophy. My own son, Conor, 11 and profoundly autistic, has benefited from learning in a quieter environment outside the mainstream classroom where he can receive one to one instruction. His current teachers aide is experienced and trained at the UNB-CEL AIT program. He also spends SOME time in the mainstream classroom for defined periods of time during which he can interact with other children in appropriate activities.

Jurisdictions across North America would be wise to look at the New Brunswick model as it unfolds and examine the UNB-CEL model if they seriously intend to deliver a real education to autistic students in their jurisdictions.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Doherty,
By now, you have probably figured out that I disagree with you on some fundamental issues pertaining to autism and autistic people. However, I am very open to learn. Now, in this case, I wonder why exactly teachers would need to know about ABA? If a child needs ABA to learn such things as social skills, language etc., isn't that a therapist's task rather than a teacher's? Of course I can see where you are coming from when inappropriate behavior is disrupting the school environment, so teachers would need training in how to deal with that. They also, obviously, need to learn approriate reinforcement and punishment, as to avoid abuse out of inability to handle these children. However, this is not specific to ABA, but to behavioral classroom management in general.

The Canadian system may work differently from that in my country (the Netherlands), but here children who really cannot learn, as autistics without ABA are supposed to be, are not sent to school, but to day programs that may have ABA (most do not, apparently the Dutch won't see the evidence).

Also, what is taught by teachers in special ed who may have ABA training? Is it an effective approach to teachign functional academics? I'm confused, since here teachers aren't supposed to be therapists and vice versa, so I'm kind of confused why we need ABA in the schools.

Unknown said...


I have no idea how it works in your country. Here children generally attend neighborhood schools.

ABA is used to instruct children, including my son, because it is effective at helping them learn. Some autistic children do not learn by regular dialogue and instruction and learn effectively by means of ABA based methodology.

You can click the link on my blog site to the MADSEC report for a description of ABA used in an educational context and its effectiveness. You can also view articles by Alan Harchik of the May Institute on the same subject.

Harold Doherty