Tosh is making tremendous academic progress this year, and most of the credit goes to cooperation among his therapy and education providers.
Autism support services aren’t as effective when they’re served ala carte. Each service should dove tail the others and work together to achieve shared goals.
In particular, if your child receives outside ABA or other behavioral therapy, like RDI or sensory integration, these providers should work with your child’s teacher to address behavioral problems at school. At a minimum, someone from your ABA provider should attend IEP meetings to provide input regarding goals and how to address behavioral issues.
We are fortunate that the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), our ABA provider, is all in when it comes to supporting Tosh’s educational and speech goals. Since he spends 20 hours a week there, that’s a must. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be enough time in the day for ABA, school, speech, homework, and time to play and be a kid.
I’ve heard autism parents say their ABA provider draws a line in the sand regarding school, saying, “we don’t do academics.”
If your ABA provider refuses to work with your child at all on homework or interact with his/her school, it’s time to find a new therapy provider.
Most children with autism are far more intelligent than everyone thinks. Some kids truly do have an intellectual disability, but many incorrectly receive that diagnosis because nobody was able to help them overcome their sensory and behavioral challenges so they could communicate their intelligence. And even those with actual intellectual disabilities have far more academic potential than presumed.
ABA therapists are not educators. Teaching your child is not their responsibility.
However, helping your child overcome behavioral hurdles to learning is. At a minimum, they should be working with your child on the following skills.
Communication. Your ABA provider is probably already working with your child to reduce aggression when triggered by an inability to communicate, but they should work with teachers to address communication triggers that occur at school. That means your child’s teacher and aides should be aware of these triggers and consistently implement the behavioral therapy techniques your outside ABA provider recommended and implements during ABA sessions. Without this cooperation, your child will become even more frustrated and confused.
Tosh’s ABA provider constantly works with him to “use his words” when he gets frustrated. They also practice his speech therapy exercises, particularly ones that develop expressive language. As a result, Tosh is an incredibly proficient user of Proloquo2Go for his age. Right now, he’s learning pronouns and verb tenses and using them to build sentences. For example, when shown a photo of a girl kicking a soccer ball and asked “what is she doing,” he will answer on his AAC, “she is kicking.”
The ability to communicate isn’t just a necessity for education – it’s a critical for mental health and a human right. Be patient! It’s taken years to get Tosh to this point and he has a long way to go. But in my opinion, this is the most important skill he will need in life so every single educator and service provider must make it a priority. And communicating instead of becoming aggressive is a behavior that ABA must support everywhere, especially in the classroom.
Attending to task. If your child’s IEP goals include working on a non-preferred task for a certain period of time, that’s a red flag they need additional attending to task support from ABA. Ask your child’s teacher what the non-preferred tasks are, and make sure ABA is implementing exercises to support that goal. For Tosh, non-preferred tasks include completing worksheets and listening to the teacher read an entire story or explain a new concept. So, I send worksheets to ABA sessions every day. CARD also has a therapy room that recreates a classroom environment where his therapist works with him to sit still and pay attention as he/she reads a book out loud. They also get groups of kids together to practice circle time.
Tosh is about to achieve his goal of attending for five minutes at a time, and once he can do that we will increase it to 10 minutes. Our ultimate goal is 30 minutes. His progress has been outstanding. Worksheets have gone from a major behavioral trigger to a preferred activity. His ABA therapists are encouraging and kind, and instead of treating academics as a work burden, they’ve boosted his confidence so that he enjoys showing others (and himself) how much he knows. At home during play time, sometimes he even chooses academic learning tools like task boxes instead of toys. That’s exactly what I was hoping for – a love of learning.
Socialization. ABA already works on socialization, but it must support the specific socialization issues that may be keeping your child out of the least restrictive classroom setting. Tosh is a very social boy, but he struggled with screaming (which happened several times a day due to both frustration and excitement) and not giving others personal space. He’s a hugger and kisser, and theoretically I think we need more of in the world. However, it could be considered illegal assault, so he had to stop doing it if he wanted to interact with peers. Our ABA provider addressed these issues as goals and created exercises around them, and knocked them both out in less than a year. Tosh now attends a mainstream class every Friday without any socialization problems.
These are just a few examples. Your ABA provider should be working with your school to address any behaviors that are preventing your child from making significant academic progress each year. If that isn’t happening despite your best efforts, it’s time to consider making a change. It might require restructure your day and where/how you work, but the future of your child is so important you owe it to the entire family to at least try.
If you want your child to develop into an adult who lives independently with support, an education is a must. And remember, education isn’t just academic knowledge. School also teaches the skills required to attend to a job. ABA services must build the foundation to achieve these goals.
Heather Anderson is a blissfully happy autism mom and lover of life in Southern California who is on a mission to help autism parents rediscover their happy place.
Please join me on this beautiful autism journey. The Autism Oasis is a fun, supportive and educational community where your personal development is just as important as your children's. You are more than just a caregiver!