ABA in the Gen Ed Classroom
By James Ball, EdD, BCBA-D
Autism Asperger’s Digest September/October 2014
As I thought about writing this particular article, I wanted to give general education (gen ed) teachers three things that I feel are the most important when it comes to using the science of applied behavior analysis (ABA) in their classrooms. I thought about the applied piece, the evidence-based strategies that have been proven effective through peer-reviewed research. I then thought about the behavior piece, understanding that it is the one and only change agent in the process. I thought about the analysis piece, understanding that the best way to evaluate the success of a program or technique is through data-based decision making. After contemplating all those aspects, I feel that the following information will deliver the best bang for your buck and make the gen ed setting inviting for all students.
Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are motivated by the same thing as their neurotypical peers. Doing work is not always a preferred activity unless it is a topic of great interest. Temple Grandin calls these areas of special interest. As Anne Holmes, the chair of the Panel of Professional Advisors of the Autism Society of America taught me, you have to find the “to die for.” Once you figure out what makes the student tick, develop a system that works for the individual and the classroom. If you do this, the student with ASD will complete work and build a foundation for later success.
As far as less preferred activities, it is critical that the student with ASD know specifically what the expectations are and what he gets for completing said expectations. For example, filling out mindless (in his opinion) worksheets does not make sense. I can remember when I was in school; I did not always want to do some of the work, but that was the expectation. At first, a student with ASD may not understand that there is an aspect of learning (such as repetition) behind the teacher’s expectations.
Whenever possible, supplement the material that is being taught in the class with visuals. Students with ASD learn through both auditory and visual means. However, visuals are more transportable and can be used as a prompt for the student to understand the expectation of that moment. This will also allow the teacher to tap into the many different styles all students have when it comes to understanding the material (e.g., manipulatives for teaching math concepts, pictures for writing a paragraph about what was read, hands-on activities for core skill development). The student with ASD will find it much easier to comprehend if visuals are incorporated into the repetition part of the learning experience.
Active teaching is nothing more than catching the student when he is being good. We are quick to point out what is wrong in a classroom as opposed to acknowledging what the student is doing right. All gen ed classrooms have a set of rules. The teacher should take every opportunity to reinforce the student’s behavior when he is following the rules, not just pointing out when he is breaking them. This will establish an avenue for the student with ASD to gain positive teacher attention. On occasion, students with ASD will take attention any way they can get it, positive or negative. If they experience only negative attention, that is what they will seek. A better way is to give them positive attention when they are doing what they are supposed to be doing and to either redirect or correct what they may be doing wrong.
With the increasing number of children being diagnosed with ASD, teachers in the gen ed setting are going to see more of these students, not fewer. Although a majority of them can learn through incidental teaching and gain knowledge through gen ed settings, the environment needs to be ready, and that comes through training. The gen ed setting has a lot of things going on: movement, distractions, and a teacher with many responsibilities. The inclusion of students with ASD must be planned and methodically implemented. For the individual student with ASD, this begins with the development of the individual education program (IEP). To ensure success in the inclusion experience for all, the goals and objectives must be well structured and specific, so all involved know exactly what is expected. This begins with appropriate training of the teacher in the aspects discussed in this article and the understanding that ABA can be effective for all students, not only those with ASD.
James Ball, EdD, BCBA-D, has been working in the field of autism for 20+ years helping children, teens, and adults with ASD. Learn more about Jim’s consulting services company at www.jbautismconsulting.com.
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