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Not all ABA Classrooms are Created Equal

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

How to make sure what is on your child’s IEP is beneficial and specific for your child.

You attend your child’s IEP meeting. The TEAM recommends that your child receive services in an ABA classroom. Perfect! An ABA Classroom is just what your child needs. Everything sounds GREAT! You receive the IEP in the mail, read it, sign it, and return it to the TEAM. Work is done! Not so fast…

How do you know that what is on your child’s IEP is actually meaningful and specific for your child? One way is to visit your child’s classroom. But what should you look for?

The following is a guideline for elements of an effective ABA Classroom that parents and teachers should expect to find: By Michael F. Dorsey, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, Professor of Education and Director of The Institute for Behavioral Studies, Van Loan School at Endicott College

1. The class philosophy must be based exclusively on the principals of Applied Behavior Analysis and utilize only Evidence-Based Practices.

2. Applications of ABA technology should include the collection of objective data on all IEP Behavioral Goals/Objectives simultaneously with the occurrence of the targeted behaviors.

3. All data should be summarized and graphed daily. 

4. Changes in teaching strategies and/or specific Goals/Objectives should be based on this data.

5. A Behavioral Analyst should be assigned to consult with the school and home-based educational staff. Consultation hours should be divided between the student’s home and school.  This consultant should be a Licensed Applied Behavior Analyst (LABA) or Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) and have a minimum of a master’s degree in Behavior Analysis, Special Education or Psychology, as well as experience in the education and treatment of children with similar developmental issues and at the same age.  Specifically, those standards outlined by the Association for Behavior Analysis as well as the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) should be followed as a basis for the selection of this individual.

6. All staff, including the classroom teacher, aides, habilitation staff, home-based, etc., must together meet at a minimum of twice per month to review the data and to make decisions relative to the continued appropriateness of current goals/objectives and/or teaching strategies.  All data must be available for review by parents at any time. 

7. All IEP Goals should be based on a development assessment, such as The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS) or Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) and updated on an on-going basis to assist in the initial identification and ongoing monitoring of IEP Goals.

8. All educational services (i.e., Class, Home-Based, etc.) must be based on the same IEP, with one set of Goals and Objectives, the same teaching strategies, materials, data collection procedures, etc.  It is imperative that everyone uses exactly the same approach, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

9. Written “Protocols” should be developed for all educational/behavioral goals and objectives. At minimum, such protocols should include an objective definition of the behavior being taught/reduced, a listing of the materials necessary to conduct the learning experience, the types of prompting being utilized, fading, maintenance and generalization procedures, and a data sheet to record performance.

10. Finally, parents should be provided a weekly schedule, broken-down by 30-minute intervals within each day, in which the activity for that time period and the IEP Goal/Objective being addressed is included.

These guidelines listed above are all essential and equally important for an ABA classroom to be effective. Below is a checklist with more specific guidelines that might be easier for parents to follow.

What does the classroom look like?

  • Does the classroom look clutter-free?

  • Are there visuals?

  • Is there a distraction-free tabletop area?

  • Are there picture schedules, choice boards, token boards, task analysis?

  • Is the cubby area neat with a picture schedule/Task Analysis?

  • Is there alternative seating during circle time? (Back jack chair, wiggle cushion, bean bag chair, hug seats)

  • Are the materials organized? (Markers, glue, paper, toys)

  • Is there a picture schedule for the day?

  • Are there classroom rules posted that are child friendly and easy to follow?

What are the Teachers doing?

  • Are teachers using the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis?

  • Are teachers using discrete trials and task analysis?

  • Are teachers giving positive praise?

  • Are teachers taking data?

  • Are teachers expanding language by expecting students to speak in full sentences when appropriate? (Not allowing just one-word answers)

  • Are teachers using a token reward system?

  • Are teachers using First/Then Boards?

  • Are teaches interacting with students during downtime?

  • Are teachers facilitating conversations during snack time?

  • Are teachers facilitating cooperative play and turn-taking during playtime?

  • Are teachers using many different teaching modalities?  (Kinesthetic, Visual, Tactile, Auditory)

  • Are there routines? Functional Routines are predictable events that involve a string of skills. These routines provide meaningful situations for using, generalizing, and maintaining skills.

  • Are teachers using incidental teaching? (Incidental teaching, as described by North Shore Pediatric Therapy, involves creating an environment in which students’ interests are easily fostered and nurtured, and one in which students can be most successfully motivated. This process maximizes learning opportunities through typical activities.)

  • Are teachers sharing data and collaborating with other service providers?

  • Are teachers sharing data and communicating with parents either daily or weekly?

  • Are service providers such as Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, and Speech and Language Pathologist providing services in the ABA classroom?

Brie Holtrop on Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers
Autism Elementary on Teachers Pay Teachers

Another way to make sure the classroom is appropriate for your child is to hire an Advocate or an Educational Consultant to go visit the classroom. Having a trained individual with a fresh eye observe the classroom is always beneficial in making sure an ABA program is beneficial and meets your child's needs.

Schools are open to letting Parents, Advocates, and Educational Consultants observe classrooms. The accommodating schools are usually proud of their program and want to show off how great their program is to others. The schools that are not so accommodating and give excuses for why you cannot see their program, such as distracting other students, there are confidentiality issues, or even stating that the schedule doesn’t allow for observations, usually have something to hide. It is your right as a parent, either for you, an Advocate, or an Educational Consultant to visit your child’s classroom. Take advantage of this opportunity and see what is happening in your child’s classroom because not all ABA classrooms are created equal!

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