You are here

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the Oregon School System

Training, training, training -- data, data, data -- analyze, analyze, analyze -- fun, fun, fun --creative, creative, creative -- positive, positive, positive -- compassionate, compassionate, compassionate -- motivation, motivation, motivation -- it's never the kid's fault he/she is not learning, you need to be better at teaching.

One big-ol' ABA misconception: ABA is Lovaas Discrete Trial

I think one very common misconception, especially with Oregon Department of Education (ODE) folks, is that ABA is synonymous with discrete trial teaching (Lovaas). ABA is a methodology that can be applied everywhere, with anyone, at any time. It involves noting responses to an instruction while keeping in mind the motivation aspect of the subject's response (something is motivating to the child when it increases the appropriate response when that motivating thing is given to the child). Behaviors are strengthened by positive reinforcement and diminished by non-reinforcement or replacement by something else. It is effective because you constantly monitor the program by collecting objective data and analyzing it - then modify interventions based upon the data.

Another big-ol' ABA misconception: ABA doesn't work with older kids

Another myth is that ABA only works for certain kids. You can use ABA principles on siblings, employers, parents, etc (see Don't Shoot the Dog). It doesn't take away from the child's personality.? When done correctly,

ABA will NOT turn your child into a robot but it WILL maximize learning by teaching HOW to learn.

ABA and accountability/development of techniques

An ABA program has a high degree of accountability. Some of it may be at the cost of teaching time, however. This is why school districts and early intervention programs resist taking data. However, without some data, parents and educators have no idea of what is being taught and if the teaching is effective for the INDIVIDUAL child, hence, the "I" in IFSP/IEP. Education programs should be subject to true functional analysis both educationally and behaviorally.

With ABA the curriculum expands and changes, according to the needs of the child. You know it will change when your data shows it.

Effective teachers/therapists first create a fun and positive rapport with my son, then develop their "techniques".

This takes into account the "run to not away fromt he therapist" theory (see below). Any therapist/teacher worth a grain of salt should *ALWAYS* be up-to-date in techniques and theories, many of which are available via publications and conferences. My consultant always amazes me when she recaps an article she read. The field of ABA is ever changing (that's why it's called Applied Behavior ANALYSIS).

My personal bias toward Verbal Behavior

I attest to Verbal Behavior which involves DTT and Natural Environment Teaching (NET). It always has to be positive.

MOTTO: Have the child run to you, not away.

Not only do you have to be positive, but creative and fun, too. That is very hard and requires lots of quality support and training on behalf of the therapist/teacher. Plus you need lots and lots of compassion -> driving you to want to be creative and fun. If missing one or more of the components I mentioned above regression can occur along with disaster (locking youngsters up in darkened 3' x 4' closets and floor restraints for simple noncompliance).

So where does Oregon stand with ABA?

Oregon currently does not have the competent, let alone certified, personnel to carry out appropriate ABA programs that are well supervised with qualified and trained therapists. They have bought into eclecticism via Janice Jenzen, a long time Oregon Autism educator. Their reasoning? We can't offer only one solution because each child is different. However, by only offering an Eclectic solution, they have chosen a single methodology on behalf of our children and families.

Eclecticism is, in itself, a methodology.

Ever hear people say that one methodology doesn't work for ALL children. Somehow, the answer is to have NO methodology. This is known as an eclectic program. A little of this and a little of that. Take the best of various things. The toolbelt method. Sounds good, doesn't it?


You cannot do research on programs that are vastly different from one child to another. So what ends up happening is that these ineffective, sometimes harmful programs are continually used on hundreds of children, year after year, decade after decade.

Nothing like hiding under "one program doesn't fit all kids" and "we don't need no stinkin' research."

Psychology/medical based ABA vs. Oregon Public School-based ABA

Ever wonder how the school system can dismiss a medical diagnosis of autism? They can because they have a loophole: the disability must be shown to inhibit learning while the three 20-minute observations take place. There are some other parts of the evaluation but I suspect this is one that might keep some kids from qualifying for autism services in the special education (ages 5+).

Here is some comparison between an Autism Medical Diagnosis and a school-based Autism Evaluation:

ABA and the psychology/medical community ABA and the school system
A science-based approach A system within the arts
Data drives your teaching practices Whatever the state has chosen drives teaching practices
Science and research is what makes up the methodology State choses the methodology/ies
Taking data is an important part of ABA. In the least, probe data should be taken. Teachers find taking data difficult because it gets in the way of teaching. Therefore, data is often not taken or taken inconsitently.
Developmental tests are given like the ABLLS that determine the curriculum and where to go next.

Instead of taking data on how and what the child is learning, various sporadic standardized, developmental, and subjective tests are given to determine where the child stands. Tests can include the EOW, GSI, language samples, etc. The GSI is supposed to be used to develop curriuculum.

The certification process in ABA is pretty tough, they have a high standard of ethics and requirements of knowledge and experience. Western Oregon University admits that they have one single class that touches on methodologies for their Special Ed teachers and Early Intervention masters student. The are, as they admit, a "Jack of all Trades and Master of None".
Certified (and even many uncertified) ABA providers will tell you what your child needs, even if it hurts. They are honest. They have a strong desire to work themselves out of a job by helping your child achieve self-sufficiency - a "recovery" of sorts. Public Education is often driven by "gag" rules inhibiting teachers and specialists from suggesting services that cost money or from being honest. This includes being forthright in giving newly diagnosed parents a list of options (ABA is not one of them).
ABA claims a "recovery" rate of about 37-47% where the child is tested with normal IQ, is indistinguishable from peers, requires no assistance, and gets average or better grades. One county in Oregon has claimed a 13% rate of improvement but the definition of improvement was not well defined. Others have found that Oregon actually has a rate of regression. This needs to be further studied and critiqued.
ABA, from competent providers, *requires* high level of parent involvement and training. The ABA field realizes that best outcome children come from highly involved and motivated families. Parent training is minimal to non-existant. Parents are viewed as "getting in the way", incompetent, and their presence in the classroom is often limited with time constraints (for only 1/2 hour) or requires advance notice.
Providers work with the family. The family "buys" services that meet their needs. The family is a consumer within a openly competitive group of providers. Take it or leave it. There are no vouchers, medical coupons, or alternative schools available in most areas. If a poor working relationship develops between the school system and parents, retaliation can occur.
If you don't like the ABA provider, you can simply choose another (if another is available, that is). If you don't like the school services, your recourse is to write a letter of complaint (free), mediation (cost of an attorney), or Due Process. Due Process has shown that the cards are stacked against parents with ODE biased hearing officers. In addition, the cost of attorney is estimated at $15,000-$60,000.