Best practice autism treatment 'will vanish' under proposals


A NUMBER of academics have warned that schools providing Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) for children with autism will “disappear” under Department of Education proposals.

Last week the Department of Education sent letters to 12 pilot schools, which have been providing education through ABA for more than a decade, offering to give them special school status.

This recognition, however, will be subject to a number of controversial terms and conditions which some academics and tutors say will spell the end for ABA schools.

It will be up to these schools’ boards of management to decide whether to accept the offer which is accompanied by permanent State funding.

ABA uses behavioural science to assess and treat a broad range of behaviours in individuals diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Many academics and support groups say it is a highly effective intervention which has produced dramatic results among children with autism.

However, the Government favours an “eclectic” approach, which it says is based on a wide range of educational approaches, including ABA, a picture exchange communication system, social stories and developmentally based approaches.

In a statement yesterday, the Psychological Society of Ireland’s division on behaviour analysis said that under the department’s proposals ABA schools would simply resemble “eclectic” special schools across the State.

Among the members of the division’s committee are Prof Julian Leslie of the University of Ulster, Dr Olive Healy of NUI Galway, Dr Geraldine Leader of NUI Galway, Dr Maeve Bracken of Trinity College Dublin, as well as Michelle Kelly and Niamh McEvoy of NUI Galway.

The division says research shows that children exposed to the “eclectic” approach do not achieve the same level of gains as children who receive full-time tuition based on the science of ABA.

In addition, it said the department had not produced any research to show the superiority of the “eclectic” approach over ABA.

The group said more than 23 international reviews of the current literature on best practice in the treatment of autism have demonstrated that ABA is “the most effective intervention available. The department continue to ignore these reports and claim a mix of different interventions is superior to one approach.”

In a statement yesterday, the department said its policy maintained a focus on meeting the individual needs of each child with autism based on advice received from international experts.

The arrangements being put to schools would involve additional investment over and above the level of funding currently being made available to the centres through the ABA scheme.

The statement said permanent funding arrangements, including funding for the recruitment of principal teachers and teachers, would now be put in place for the new special schools.

It said: “The policy and approach of the department is based on a concern to ensure that the individual and different needs of each child with autism are appropriately met and that each child is provided with an opportunity to realise his/her potential.”