Policy/Program Memorandum No. 140
Date of Issue:: May 17, 2007
Application: Directors of Education
The purpose of this memorandum is to provide direction to school boards1 to support their use of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) as an effective instructional approach in the education of many students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).2 This memorandum establishes a policy framework to support incorporation of ABA methods into school boards’ practices. The use of ABA instructional approaches may also be effective for students with other special education needs.
This memorandum has been informed by recommendations of the Report of the Minister's Autism Spectrum Disorders Reference Group.3 This group was established in 2006 at the joint invitation of the Minister of Education and the Minister of Children and Youth Services to provide both ministers with advice on effective, evidence-based educational practices to meet the wide range of needs of students with ASD.
This memorandum is intended to strengthen collaborative working relationships between parents,4 schools, and the community. This collaboration is essential for supporting positive learning for students with ASD. An example of such collaboration is the development of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for a student.
The direction provided in this memorandum builds on suggestions for successful practice provided in the Ministry of Education’s documents entitled Special Education: A Guide for Educators, 2001 and Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, andImplementation, 2000, and is consistent with the Ontario curriculum as a basis for programs for students with ASD.
This direction is also consistent with suggestions for successful practice provided in the following documents published by the Ministry of Education:
School board staff should consult the above documents for more detailed information.
The Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) document entitled Autism Intervention Program: Program Guidelines, 2006 provides additional information. In particular, the sections on Transition Planning and Sharing Information may provide useful information. The MCYS document entitled
A Shared Responsibility: Ontario's Policy Framework for Child and Youth Mental Health, 2006 provides additional information. Copies of these documents are available online (see page 7) or through the local MCYS office.
This memorandum is also informed by the recommendations in the Report of the Interim Parent Involvement Advisory Board, which was released in July 2006.
Applied Behaviour Analysis
Applied behaviour analysis (ABA)5 uses methods based on scientific principles of learning and behaviour to build useful repertoires of behaviour and reduce problematic ones. In this approach, the behaviour(s) to be changed are clearly defined and recorded. The antecedents of the undesirable behaviour(s) are analysed, as are the reinforcers that might be maintaining the undesirable behaviour(s) or that might be used to help develop adaptive behaviours.
Interventions based on behavioural principles are designed to develop appropriate behaviours. Progress is assessed and the program is altered if necessary (adapted from Perry and Condillac 2003). ABA can be used with students of every age. It can be applied in a variety of situations, and it can be used for very limited and specific purposes, such as the development or reduction of single behaviours. ABA can also be used for broader purposes, such as the development or reduction of sets of behaviour (for example, to improve relaxation skills, to teach more effective social skills, or to enhance community living skills). ABA can be used for students with ASD, and it can be used for students who have varying degrees of intensity of ASD along a learning continuum.
ABA methods can support students with ASD in a number of ways. For example, ABA methods can help a student to:
ABA methods can also be used to limit the conditions under which problematic behaviours occur – for example, to modify the learning environment so that students are less likely to injure themselves.
Educators must measure an individual student's progress in the above areas by collecting and analysing data on an ongoing basis. Educators must use the data collected to determine the effectiveness of the program and to alter the program as necessary to maintain or increase a student's success. Progress should be measured in accordance with the assessment methods used in the student's program.
1. School boards must offer students with ASD special education programs and services, including, where appropriate, special education programs using ABA methods.
Under Regulation 181/98, principals are required to ensure that an IEP is developed for each exceptional student within thirty school days of the start of the student's placement. School boards also have the discretion to develop an IEP for students who have not been formally identified as exceptional. Students with ASD have a wide range of educational needs. Principals are required to ensure that ABA methods are incorporated into the IEPs of students with ASD, where appropriate.
Principals must ensure that relevant school board personnel6 and community personnel7 who have previously worked and/or are currently working with a student with an ASD are invited to provide input and participate in the IEP process. These personnel are able to bring other perspectives and recommendations regarding special education programs and services for students with ASD. In particular, the assessment information gathered from these personnel can benefit the IEP team in planning accurate and comprehensive interventions for the student and promote a common approach to enhance student success.
ABA Methods in Programs for Students With ASD
When an alternative program is determined to be appropriate for a particular student with an ASD, it should, wherever possible, incorporate methods of ABA and be provided in conjunction with a program that includes accommodations as well as modified learning expectations as necessary. Alternative program areas for a student with an ASD could include, for example, behavioural, self-management, social, and communication skills.
When a student with an ASD requires accommodations and/or modified expectations, assessment and evaluation of student learning will be consistent with the strategies outlined in the student's IEP.
The principal must ensure that instructional modifications/strategies are uniquely suited to each student's learning strengths and needs. The ministry plans to publish a resource guide entitled Effective Education Practices for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders that will provide more detailed information on strategies.9
Principles of ABA Programming
The following principles underlie ABA programming that is provided to students with ASD, where appropriate:
2. School board staff must plan for the transition between various activities and settings involving students with ASD.
Transition planning is an important process for all students, but especially for students with ASD. Principals are required to ensure that a plan for transition is in place for students with ASD. Transitions may include: entry to school; transition between activities and settings or classrooms; transitions between grades; moving from school to school or from an outside agency to a school; transition from elementary to secondary school; transition from secondary school to postsecondary destinations and/or the workplace.
Transition into school is of particular importance for students with ASD. Relevant ABA methods must be used to support transition, where appropriate. Students enter school from a range of settings, including the home and child-care or pre-school programs. It is essential that school board staff work with parents and community agencies to plan for a successful transition. Where a student is currently working with a community service professional, that professional should be involved with the transition process.
Monitoring And Reporting of Implementation
School boards are encouraged to make use of a growing body of knowledge about educational practices that are effective for students with ASD. Relevant research on ASD will be posted on the ministry's website to provide information on instructional practices for students with ASD.
School boards should develop a plan to implement the policy in this memorandum, and should consult with their Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) regarding the implementation. School boards should also consult their SEAC regarding the monitoring of the implementation of this memorandum, at least on an annual basis.
The ministry will integrate monitoring of implementation of this memorandum into existing reporting mechanisms. The Minister's Advisory Council on Special Education, as well as members of the Ministers' Autism Spectrum Disorders Reference Group who wish to be involved, will be consulted twice a year regarding the implementation of ABA methods by school boards.
For further information, please contact the local regional office of the Ministry of Education.
Perry, A., and R. Condillac. 2003. Evidence-Based Practices for Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Review of the Literature and Practice Guide. Toronto: Children's Mental Health Ontario.
Web Links for Selected Ontario Government Publications
Ministry of Education
The Ontario Curriculum Unit Planner: Special Education Companion, 2002.
Ministry of Children and Youth Services
Alberto, P. A., and A. C. Troutman. 2006. Applied Behaviour Analysis for Teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Committee on Educational Interventions for Children With Autism, National Research Council. 2001. Educating Children With Autism. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Cooper, J. O., T. E. Heron, and W. L. Heward. 2006. Applied Behavior Analysis. 2nd ed. Columbus, OH : Prentice Hall.
Heflin, L. J., and D. F. Alaimo. 2007. Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders: Effective Instructional Practices. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Simpson, R. L. 2004. Autism Spectrum Disorders: Interventions and Treatments for Children and Youth. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
1. In this document, school board(s) and board(s) refer to district school boards and school authorities.