Autism Support Teachers Find Success in Data Collection 

March 4, 2011

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Ms. Adelay Ngide, an autism support teacher at Kelly Miller Middle School, believes in the ABC’s when it comes to her class.

That’s ABC – A for Antecedent, B for Behavior and C for Consequence – a data collection method that she and the 43 other autism support teachers at DCPS use to help their autistic students achieve in the classroom, and to improve their classroom and behavior management skills.

This data collection is part of a methodology known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which studies how behavior and learning works, and uses positive reinforcement to encourage positive behaviors and discourage harmful ones.

ABA has been 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 also is the only strategy that has demonstrated improved outcomes in multiple autism studies.

For those reasons, the DCPS autism services team decided to adopt ABA as a strategy to make sure all students with autism are successful in the classroom.

Since the 2007-08 school year, the autism services team at DCPS has worked to create a foundation of autism support in DCPS elementary schools and has started developing similar services and supports for middle and high school students.

Ms. Ngide, who teaches sixth and eighth grade students with autism, is one of many teachers who can speak to the proof of the possibilities with ABA.

“I now see that ABA is very helpful – not just for the students and their behavior, but for me to plan my instruction and have more time to increase their learning,” said Ms. Ngide. “As time went on, I learned it was a very helpful tool to me, to individualize my students’ learning and to be able to know when a behavior will occur.”

Autism is a developmental disability that affects social interaction and communication. Individuals with autism often have difficulty expressing themselves both verbally and nonverbally, understanding social interaction, and adapting to daily activities such as personal care and independent living skills.

As a result, children with autism often are described as inflexible to change, pre-occupied with a narrow range of interests and prone to engage in repetitive behavior.

Although it’s only in its third year at DCPS, ABA already has proven to be successful for both students with autism and their teachers. Its flexibility allows teachers to adapt it to a variety of educational settings depending on what is most effective for them.

Ms. Ngide said she had one student who had tantrums and tried to escape classroom activities. The ABA process required Ms. Ngide to keep track of when a negative behavior occured, as well as how long and how frequently that behavior happened.

After charting data on the student’s behavior, Ms. Ngide started seeing a pattern.

“I realized that the particular behavior occurred because of certain wants,” said Ms. Ngide.

By collecting data as required by ABA, Ms. Ngide saw that the majority of negative behavior occurred immediately following a classroom activity the student participated in on Wednesday, and during the next two class days following the activity.

Ms. Ngide said that once she realized the student enjoyed this activity, she could use it to reinforce positive behavior and deter any negative behavior from occurring. As a result, the student could focus in class, and Ms. Ngide could use class time to focus on learning instead of managing behavior.

“You know, behaviors are learned, so you can actually shape behavior by taking data,” said Ms. Ngide. “For us, we do scheduling so the students know in the morning their routines of what they are supposed to do. We already know their behaviors because we have been taking data.”

To learn more about autism services and supports at DCPS, visit our section on autism programs and resources.

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