Autism Program and Resources


We are committed to creating a world-class set of services and supports so that DCPS is the first and best location of services for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. We are providing best-practice services to students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and related disorders, based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

What are Autism Spectrum Disorders?
Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as autism, are developmental disabilities that affect social interaction and communication. Autism affects three main areas:

Communication: Verbal communication skills are the use of words or sounds to label objects, request items or attention, and to respond to people. Nonverbal communication skills include pointing or gesturing, and using eye contact or body language to communicate.

Social Interaction: Skills that enable a person to interact with others in a way that creates a positive feeling and does not generate a negative response.

Adaptive Behavior: Skills necessary to participate and succeed in daily activities. These skills include personal care, such as feeding and bathing, and independent living skills, such as preparing food and using public transportation.

As a result, children with autism often are described as:

  • Inflexible – children with autism often have difficulty adjusting to changes in their routine and unexpected events.
  • Pre-occupied – they often exhibit a narrow range of interests or obsessively think about certain things.
  • Repetitive – children with autism often engage in behaviors over and over, such as rocking or nail biting. Some students may engage in these behaviors to soothe themselves. Others may not realize they are doing them at all.

What is Applied Behavior Analysis and Why Use It?
Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) has been well documented over the past five decades as an effective method of teaching social and verbal behaviors that students with autism may not pick up on their own. ABA is the most researched intervention for students with autism, and also is the only intervention demonstrated to result in improved outcomes in controlled comparison studies. The Surgeon General and the American Academy of Pediatrics have backed ABA as the intervention for students with autism with the most solid research base.

ABA studies how behavior and learning works, and uses positive reinforcement to encourage positive behavior and discourage harmful behaviors. These behaviors include communication skills, social skills, reading, writing, math, comprehension and adaptive living skills. Teachers know each student’s interests and motivation, and they use these interests as positive reinforcement during instruction and when students engage in target behaviors. Focusing on each student’s motivation ensures that learning is fun and instruction is maximized.

There are many different settings where DCPS staff uses ABA to help teach students with autism. For example, sometimes ABA is used in a one-on-one setting. One method is called discrete trial instruction. A teacher might prompt a student to say bear. If the student says bear, the teacher rewards the student with a toy bear. This positive reinforcement helps teach students new skills.

Other times, ABA can be applied in group settings, such as with direct instruction. Students are grouped together based on their academic level, and teacher asks questions to both the group and individual students at a fast pace. Teachers correct and praise the students as questions are answered.

Because ABA can be applied in many different settings, teachers can help students with autism in the best and most effective manner, tailored to their individual needs. ABA requires frequent review of student data so teachers can monitor student progress and modify goals as needed.

To learn more about ABA, visit the Association for Applied Behavior Analysis International website or find out more about ABA Methodologies.

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