How to tell if the autism school or program is right for your child or client

Today I’m going to give you some advice on how to tell if an autism school or program is right for your child or client.

Those are the five things I look for when I’m evaluating whether a school or a program is right for your child or client. If you’d like to learn more about how to get started or revamp your program for your child or client you can download my new three step guide to help you turn autism around for your child or client starting today. Download the free guide by clicking the link below and I’ll see you next week.

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As you may know I worked as the Lead Behavior Analyst for the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project from 2003 until 2010. It is now known as the Pattan Autism ABA Supports Initiative. When I was working there it was the Pennsylvania Verbal Behavior Project.  It was (and still is) a statewide grant and we were in public school autism classrooms providing guided practice to teachers, speech and language pathologists, OT’s, paraprofessionals.  I even trained cafeteria aides and bus drivers on some of the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

I’ve also done many independent evaluations in the past looking at whether a particular program was a good fit for a particular student.

Now I do want to say that my background is working with early intervention, five and under of any ability, any functioning level within the autism spectrum and then six and older I have been focusing on kids with moderate to severe autism.

When I am talking about a placement, in general, these tips are going to be based on kids with moderate to severe autism. Although some of these tips may still help you look at a program for a child with higher language abilities.

5 tips on how to tell if an autism school or program is right for your child or client:

1) Assessment. Because I’m the author of the “Verbal Behavior Approach” and that has been my background as long I’ve been a behavior analyst I’m a big proponent of everything being based on a verbal behavior assessment. I specifically use the VB-MAPP assessment. Again, for those kids five and under of any ability level and then for older kids with moderate to severe autism I think the VB-MAPP assessment gives us a really good guide on what should be happening within a school or program. It may not be the only assessment, especially for older children, but I do think it provides a nice base.M

So, the number one thing I look for is there a verbal behavior assessment being done and is it then leading to individualized IEP and goals based on that assessment.  I also make sure there is individualized scheduling based on that assessment?

The goals, the plan, everything needs to be driven by the assessment. In the past I’ve seen kids entering a school program with “pat” or general IEP goals which are not based on that child’s assessment and they’re not based on verbal behavior assessment in particular.

2) Classroom Schedule. After starting with an assessment, the number two thing I look for in a school or an autism program is the classroom schedule.

If my child was in there I would want to know what his schedule looks like. Is it broken down or is it just very loose? Is it broken down into time where you are working on the goals and the classroom is providing instruction or are there large chunks of the day of “free play.”

In my opinion, we should really be looking at very limited time where there’s no structure and no teaching be done so I look at the schedule and make sure that everything in there gives us the most bang for our buck in terms of instruction and progress.

3) One-to-one Instruction. After a VB-MAPP assessment and following a schedule, the number three thing I look for is 1:1 teaching time.

Our kids with moderate to severe autism tend to be very behind, have a lot of goals to work on and need the structure of 1:1:  teaching time. I’ve seen classrooms and schools where it’s two to one, there’s never any 1:1. I’ve seen classrooms where there is a ratio of eight students to one teacher or eight to two and there’s no 1:1 teaching time.

Children with autism cannot make progress on individualized goals when there’s so much group instruction and no 1:1 time.

4) Happiness. Next I ask, is the child happy to go to the school, to go into the classroom, to ride on the bus or however he gets there?

The child should be happy to go to school or to their program, they should be not having problem behavior, especially on arrival. They should not be whining about going, crying, flopping to the ground when they’re entering.

If they not happy to go, then the program is not using the right reinforcement system and the demands are probably too high and the reinforcement is probably too low.

I also look for data, data collection, graphing especially on those key areas like language or if you’re potty training we would need to see data and graphs to show whether the child is not only happy but making progress in all areas too!

5) Parent/Teacher Communication. Finally, I look for a lot of parent training, collaboration, communication.

I don’t like to see communication sheets that come home with things like a smiley or a frownie face, “had a tough day,” or even “had a great day.”   I as a parent always appreciated and needed much more details about problem behaviors and anything that went wrong in the day because my child was not able to tell me. We really needed to work as a team to make sure that there was home school collaboration.

Those are the five things I look for when I’m evaluating whether a school or a program is right for your child or client. If you’d like to learn more about how to get started or revamp your program for your child or client you can download my new three step guide to help you turn autism around for your child or client starting today. Download the free guide by clicking the link below and I’ll see you next week.

Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!
GET YOUR FREE 3-STEP GUIDE TO TURN THINGS AROUND TODAY!