Updated: Feb 8
Heeding the call as behavior analysts to embrace, support, and empower our most needed ally. The public schools.
This week I attended an autism conference held in the state of Texas where the audience was a fairly equal distribution of educators, practitioners (SLPs, BCBAs, OTs, PT, etc.) As both an educator with over 12 years’ experience in the field and a practicing behavior analyst, I began to see a pattern of need emerging throughout the sessions and conversations I was fortunate to be a part of.
It was during a legislative information session offering the audience information on current issues being addressed at the state and federal level that I realized the serious disconnect that exists in the community. My day job is an educational consultant who deals directly with our state education agency’s plans for schools and also provides professional development training to special education teachers. Here, I began to see where the balls were being dropped. And let me say it isn’t one or two balls… imagine those old school ball pits (do those exist anymore?) where you can dive in, bury yourself and never be found again. This was how massive the disconnect was emerging to be. The lovely presenter, who lobbies for positive action for individuals on the spectrum and other disabilities was only versed on a superficial level about issues and plans occurring at the state education agency level.
The Proverbial Telephone Game Gone Horribly Wrong
I raised my hand and began to share the knowledge that I had based on my more direct communication with the state agency officials. That sharing of information led to school administrators and educators present in the session to chime in that THEY were not aware of these actions that their own state agency was asking school districts to participate in to improve their services for special education students. The next ball to drop was the response of the parents present in the room, saying that they had no idea any of this was occurring.
As a behavior analyst, the biggest “ball” to proverbially drop was once the session ended. I had several BCBA’s and RBT’s approach me at the end, asking me how I learned these ins and outs of the public-school system and special education. They expressed that they had a passion and desire to help schools become better equipped to serve and maximize the quality of life for the students they served.
Being a teacher at heart, my passion has always been to support and empower those educators working with so little support and training available to them. As a behavior analyst, I realized that I have an ethical responsibility to do my part in supporting other behavior analysts to better understand and embrace the public-school systems and settings.
So, the critical takeaways that have me feverishly typing this out on my laptop, before my multitasking mind forgets are these:
1. There must be learning opportunities for behavior analysts to become more fluently versed in the ways of the school systems and settings. In doing so, behavior analysts must also learn and understand the federal guidelines and mandates from OSEP (the office of special education programs) that schools are required to operate under as well as any state guidelines. This is critical in keeping our field from arrogantly assuming that schools simply do not want to do what we tell them to do. (like I tell my own children; sometimes being compassionate rules over being right)
2. We must recognize that only a minuscule percentage of children on the spectrum have access to clinic type services. The majority of them end up in a school setting. Collaboration is a MUST.
3. We need to recognize the value of our applied science beyond directly helping the students. ABA is the applied science of human behavior and the principles of learning. Our field can go beyond and assist educators with their core instructional behaviors and practices for ALL students.
4. In order to effectively get our “foot in the door” we must develop a practitioner model of compassionate behavior analysis. I don’t care how “right” we are. If the delivery is aversive, then we are always wrong.
Your school-friendly BCBA,