Feature

Providing Practical Help for Students with Autism

Susan Ducau

In 2006 the Autism Spectrum Disorders Reference Group was set up to provide recommendations to the minister of education and the minister of children and youth services about effective,  evidence-based  educational  practices to meet the strengths and needs of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). One result of the final recommendations was the Ministry of Education’s Policy and Procedure Memorandum 140 (PPM 140) released in May 2007. My heart raced with excitement as I read about the framework to support Ontario school boards with the implementation of “Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) as an effective instructional approach in the  education  of  many  students  with  Autism Spectrum Disorders (p. 1).” For me, this memorandum represented a successful collaboration by researchers, practitioners, parent representatives, and the ministries to ensure that schools address the wide variety of needs of students with ASD.

For most of my teaching career I have worked with  children  who  have  ASD, and  as  both  a classroom and itinerant resource teacher, I have witnessed the success of ABA techniques. While valuable for teaching students with autism, the principles of ABA can also be used with positive results for students with other special needs.

Applied behavioural analysis (as outlined in the PPM 140) is based on scientific principles of learning and behaviour. Its ultimate goal is to change behaviour by increasing desirable skills and decreasing undesirable ones. When applying ABA in  the  classroom, it  is  important  to consider its fundamental principles: creating an individualized program, using positive reinforcement, collecting and analyzing relevant data, and generalizing skills.

Using ABA in the classroom

Emily* was diagnosed with autism when she was two and a half years old. When I met her she was in grade 1 and had been fully integrated into a mainstream class since junior kindergarten, and was receiving some support from an educational assistant.

To address the problems Emily was experiencing in the classroom, we began by meeting as a school team:  an  administrator, special education resource teacher, the classroom teacher (who shared information provided by  the educational assistant), Emily’s mother, the school board speech and language pathologist, a community-based occupational therapist, and myself, a behaviour resource teacher.

The  school  personnel  and  Emily’s  mother  described  the  little  girl’s strengths and needs. Their primary  concern was the difficulty she had following the teacher’s directions, especially when told what work she was expected to complete. The classroom teacher said that after she gave directions, Emily would cause a disruption  by yelling and saying no. She was then usually removed from the classroom to allow her to calm down. The teacher, educational assistant, and parent were frustrated, as these behaviours were resulting in incomplete work and classroom disturbances.

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