Shine, the Irish Progressive Association for Autism, has warned that if the science of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) is to be effective, it has to be taught to a precise standard which they say will not exist in the Department of Education’s planned mixed model.
Pat McCormack, a Dublin-based parent of a six-year-old girl with autism, said he believes the deal “is nothing short of disaster for our children”.
“How can they call it child-centred yet they are getting rid of the ABA expertise that has helped my child so much? How is it child-centred yet ignoring the assessments of need that my child has? Even if a room full of education professionals agree that a child with autism would benefit most from an ABA education, they won’t allow this.
“The department insists that, to receive funding, schools must use their ‘eclectic model’, even though this is not best practice and it has no real basis in academic research.”
Mr McCormack formed part of an Irish Autism Alliance working group examining alternative solutions to the eclectic model proposed by the department. The group sought a three year bedding-in period during which ABA tutors would acquire a teaching qualification and teachers would gain an ABA qualification.
This proposal was not taken on board.
The department is proposing to change the 13 ABA schools, which have up to 300 pupils on their roll, into a mixed model, whereby other teaching methods, such as PECS and TEACCH, are used along with ABA. Such methods are already used in the ABA pilot projects but ABA would not remain as the guiding philosophy.
The department also wants ABA tutors to be replaced with trained primary school teachers and ABA tutors renamed as special needs assistants (SNA).
ABA is a teaching method in which a particular action, anything from life-skills to verbal skills, numeracy or literacy work, is broken down into steps that are repeated and learned on a one-to-one basis.
Shine chief executive Kieran Kennedy said the abolition of ABA schools denies many hundreds of parents, who have recently had their child diagnosed, an ABA education in the future.
“This crude attempt by the department to bully parents into accepting what they consider ‘appropriate education’ simply ignores the hundreds of parents who have to or had to go to court over the years to get an education for their child that actually meets the needs of that child. Those parents who had to go the legal route because professional educational advice was that ABA was the most appropriate and effective teaching methodology for their child,” he said.
The department last night said it recognises that teachers require additional autism-specific training and has prioritised teacher education for teachers of children with autism.
“Teachers may access training in autism interventions… This training is provided by the department through autism-specific post-graduate programmes in Dublin and Sligo.
“Training is also provided for teachers through the Special Education Support Service,” a spokesman said.