Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Perfect ABA Classroom

ABA is bigger than Autism.
ABA is not just a reputable and empirically supported treatment method for managing the symptoms of Autism. It's much larger than that.
B.F. Skinner, the father of Operant Conditioning wrote in the book "Walden Two" about a fictional society based on everyday application of behavioral sciences. Skinner spent most of his life trying to make people understand that applying behavioral principles to everyday life could only improve society. At the time, Skinner's writings were considered odd and unrealistic. Public opinion today hasn't changed that much.
People still have the misconception that ABA is just for people with Autism. Or ABA is just about making bad kids behave.
ABA is for anyone who wants to improve, manage, or reduce behaviors, and a behavior is any observable and measurable action. ABA is defined as: applying behavioral constructs and theories to significant social problems. So by definition, ABA is bigger than Autism because it is meant to address any significant social problem.
Behavior Specialists or BCBA's arent "Autism Experts". There are some BCBA's who have never worked with anyone with Autism and have no desire to. Being an ABA professional means you study and seek to understand behavior and you have a responsibility to share behavioral knowledge with anyone who could benefit from it. That could be a business, an adult with OCD, or a school district.
ABA at its core is a way to teach. I'm not a teacher, but much of what I do involves helping individuals learn. If I am working with a 5 year old who bites his fingers whenever he feels anxious, it is my job to teach that child replacement behaviors to handle his anxiety so he will stop biting himself. All great ABA therapists are great teachers. What would really be amazing is if all great teachers were also trained in basic ABA.
If ABA wasn't viewed as just an "Autism thing", maybe schools would realize how valuable ABA knowledge would be for ANY educator.
What would classrooms look like if ABA was just seen as a standard of excellence in education?
ABA Principle Reinforcement - All children would be motivated to learn based on the specific interests of that child. Internal as well as external rewards would be used so that children would have fun learning and enjoy school. Any time a child displayed learning difficulties or showed disinterest in school, their reinforcement package would be re-evaluated for effectiveness.
ABA Principle Differentiated Instruction- Children would have modified curriculum based on how they learn best. Some children may write vocabulary words on the chalkboard, while other children might type their vocabulary words on the classroom computer. It would depend on the way each individual child learns.
ABA Principle Environment is Key to Understanding Behavior- Children displaying behavioral issues would not be viewed as stupid, bad, or stubborn. The environment, such as teaching style, reinforcement, or an over-stimulating classroom, would be closely examined to look for factors maintaining poor behaviors. The ICEL method would be used so that the student is the last option to consider when learning problems happen.
ABA Principle Analysis of Data- Ongoing data analysis would be part of all curriculum, so teachers would know when a student needed new challenges or might need simpler tasks. Children in special education would be moved into inclusion classrooms based on performance data, and not based on administration preferences, or teacher opinion. This focus on not just collecting, but actually analyzing data would lead to higher accountability for teachers, districts, and administration.
ABA Principle Prompting & Fading- Prompting would be used to move a child from not knowing a skill, to knowing a skill. Prompt levels would vary depending on how much help the child needs, and reinforcement would increase as prompts decreased to encourage the child to desire to complete the task independently. All classrooms would use various prompting tools suited to the individual child so that each student in the classroom is performing to the best of their ability. For example students performing poorly in math would be allowed to take tests with calculators, and be paired with a higher performing student during independent task time. Any implemented prompts would be faded out eventually to prevent prompt dependency.
ABA Principle Conceptually Systematic- Conceptually systematic classrooms would have interventions and curriculum rooted in science. Science and research would drive critical decisions, not opinions, political hot topics, mandated testing requirements, or teacher preferences.
ABA Principle Behavior Management- ALL teachers would be trained in behavior management techniques. This would ensure more confident teachers who are thoroughly equipped to handle mild, moderate, or severe behaviors, and would reduce the need to shuttle children with behavioral problems into special education classrooms. All teachers would know how to conduct a FBA, create a behavioral intervention, and use EO to know when a student is highly motivated to learn.
ABA Principle Generalization & Maintenance- Curriculum content would be taught in multiple environments for all children to encourage retaining of information, and so the children can apply what has been learned. PE skills would be reinforced during recess time. English skills would be reinforced on field trips. Math skills would be reinforced in Art class. Review of previously learned skills would be embedded into the school day to ensure children are not regressing and to alert teachers if old material needs to be re-visited. Students who tend to lose old information more quickly than others will have their instruction modified to include more maintenance tasks.
ABA Principle 1:1 Ratio- Children would receive much of their instruction in a 1:1 or small group format (less than 5 children). The ratio would be kept small until the child has grasped the concept and is demonstrating learning, after that point large group instruction (more than 5 children) can be introduced for generalization, and social purposes. Classrooms would be smaller, and children would be divided into small groups based on ability and performance level.
ABA is for everybody. If educators, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, etc., all had even a basic understanding of ABA it would only improve upon the services they offer and increase the quality of their instruction.
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