By | October 19, 2016

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is widely recognized as one of the most effective means of reducing developmental delays and problems associated with autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). But, years of pushing toward inclusion and more cohesive education has created problems in educating children with ASDs. Furthermore, the rights of children with ASDs to an equal, helpful education are being challenged in some ways.

The courts are pushing to redefine the acceptable cost of inclusion. ABA is being paired with other types of therapies, including physical therapy through exercise, and the notion of creating a whole-health inclusive educational setting for these children is changing how ABA is used in the classroom. As a result, behavioral therapists must learn to recognize what is happening, understand how combining ABA with other types of education impacts development and use these concepts to improve educational opportunities for these children.

The Courts Redefine Quality of Education and Use of ABA in Classrooms

In a recent lawsuit in Connecticut, a judge ordered a school in the state to re-evaluate how it classifies students into “special education.” The original filing was to obtain additional funding sources for use by the school to improve access to ABA and education for students with learning or intellectual disabilities.  But, his decision includes a demand to redefine how students with learning disabilities, including ASDs, are screened, explains the CT Mirror. As a result, the eligibility of students who need ABA or more intense behavioral health interventions is changing.

Unfortunately, this ruling means many students in need of ABA may not receive the therapies they need to have the greatest opportunities in life. However, federal guidelines remain in place, allowing students with the most severe disabilities to access such resources. Furthermore, this ruling is not a final judgment. An appeal may overturn the judge’s orders, especially considering the growing outrage after the ruling.

In the interim, more educational facilities are uncovering other ways of providing services to children with ASDs that do not detract from budgets associated with ABA.

ABA Combines With Physical Education

ABA is most useful when repetition encourages appropriate behaviors. However, children with severe cases of autism may require upward of 40 or more hours of ABA weekly to reach this level of effectiveness. But, some of the same educational resources already available to other students can have benefits for students with ASDs as well, reports Spectrum News. 

The amount of time and resources devoted to ABA often leaves little time for physical activity in school settings. Yet, children with ASDs can benefit from increased physical activity.

For example, children with autism tend to have poor motor skills. Now, considering the focus on appropriate behavior, it stands to reason improving motor skills can result in greater likelihood of engaging in appropriate behaviors.

Moreover, combining students who have ASDs with other students already in physical education classes promotes inclusion and the development and refinement of their motor skills. But, more importantly, this inclusive setting does not increase the costs associated with teaching students with ASDs. In other words, the simple addition of physical activity could possibly reduce the amount of money spent on ABA by reducing the number of hours of ABA required by these children.

Creating a Whole-Health Inclusive Education for Children With ASDs

The idea of a whole-health inclusive education system goes beyond ABA and physical activity as well. It must include a way of combining therapies used for co-occurring mental and physical health disorders.

Consider students living with both ADHD and ASD. According to a presentation for the use of behavioral analysis among children and adults, published by the organization, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD), these students may be more likely to engage in inappropriate behaviors, so an appropriate, beneficial education must tackle the concerns of all conditions simultaneously.

This includes improving the dietary food choices available to students throughout the school. As it stands now, students with autism or other intellectual disabilities tend to be classified into special education versus mainstream education.

This only serves to further widen the equality gap between these students and their peers. Consequently, therapists must be willing to work with students in settings that are not restricted to a hallway or section of a typical school.

Putting It All Together

When I graduated high school, I remember where students with learning disabilities were taught. It was a hallway in the back of the building, and the students were seen as different people by many. Thinking back to 2006, the differences in our opportunities were staggering. Students with learning disabilities were kept hidden, almost like a secret within our school. Even when I tried to interact with the educators or therapists involved, I often felt out of place and unwelcome by the same educators.

My experience shows the divide is not limited to keeping students with learning disabilities out of the way and out of sight, but it demonstrates another aspect of the discussion. It reveals the need for greater inclusion of students without learning disabilities with students receiving ABA in providing the greatest opportunities to those with ASDs.

Since the, the focus has gradually shifted more toward inclusion, and in your career, you must be willing to connect those with learning disabilities to those without throughout the education process. This is the best way of creating an inclusive, whole-health educational setting, and it has the potential to alleviate the constraints and scarcity of resource availability in providing ABA and learning opportunities to students with ASDs.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.


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