Tag Archives: analysis

Applying ABA to Non-Compliant LEAs

Positive Reinforcer ChartApplied Behavioral Analysis (“ABA”) has been around for decades, now. As one of the few scientifically research-based methodologies for providing instruction to individuals with autism, it has become regarded as an autism intervention. But ABA is not an autism-specific intervention at all. It is one approach to behavior modification that can be used with pretty much anybody.

Pure ABA has taken some criticism, and not necessarily without cause. Some practitioners have been overly reliant on Discrete Trial Training (“DTT”) to the point of training kids to be little robots without learning to understand or value?why social norms apply to them. The use of response-costs are also used inappropriately by far to many practitioners, particularly those who don’t really understand ABA. Response-costs are basically aversive consequences that are meted out when the individual engages in undesirable behavior.

From a purely scientific standpoint, response-costs can be delivered in a manner that facilitates the learning of more adaptive behavior. In our public schools, however, it far too often gets twisted into a justification to punish a kid for manifesting symptoms at school. (Of course, this presumes that there is any ABA being used in the school setting at all.)

Punishment is already epidemic and positive behavioral interventions are woefully lacking in our public schools. ?The idea of response-costs are far too appealing to school district administrators just looking for an excuse to punish a kid for displaying poor judgment or reacting to environmental antecedents because of a handicapping condition as though the kid is displaying willful defiance or misconduct.

These people don’t need any more ammunition to do the wrong thing. They can take the response-cost concept of pure ABA out of context and resort to reactive strategies in a knee-jerk fashion without putting forth the necessary effort to prevent the maladaptive behaviors and teach appropriate replacement behaviors in the first place.

In California where positive behavioral interventions are very regulated, there is at least some legal recourse for students who have been inappropriately subjected to reactive strategies, including response-costs, but the systems of accountability are far, far from perfect and way too many school districts still get away with harming children in the name of behavioral intervention.

But, like I said, ABA (including response-costs, when appropriate)?can be used effectively with anyone. I kind of look at our advocacy as behavioral intervention where the intent is to change the behavior of education agencies engaging in harmful, non-compliant behavior.

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5th Grader with Autism Charged with Felony Assault

Zakhquery Price

I am writing today about a deplorable situation in my home state of Arkansas involving an 11-year-old with autism who has failed to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), according to the events described by his grandmother (see the Examiner news article). Zakhqurey Price is a 5th grader at Beard Elementary in Fort Smith, AR, who is challenged by autism.

I’m not going to repeat verbatim the article cited above because that’s unnecessarily redundant.  I’ve already posted comments on this article and its sister article at Great Schools in hopes that the family will get the word and contact Arkansas Legal Aid for help.  The point of today’s blog article and podcast is to use this horrible situation as a teaching example and learning opportunity for others.? I’m going to presume for the purposes of this article that the family’s assertions are true.

Robin Hanson reports in the Examiner article that Zakh returned to school on August 18, 2009 after having been institutionalized.  His family attempted to coordinate an IEP for him prior to the beginning of the school year but the Fort Smith school district refused to do anything until the school year started.  In many states, the IEP process is disrupted by summer break and school districts are not required to engage in IEP-related activities until the school year starts.? However, not being required to do something doesn’t mean that school districts are necessary barred from doing anything.

While a procedural violation may not have occurred due to the District’s refusal to coordinate an IEP for this child prior to the onset of the school year, common sense dictates that it probably should have done so regardless of whether it was procedurally required or not.  The millisecond that school began on August 18, 2009, the District instantly denied him a FAPE on the basis that whatever IEP he had failed to meet his unique needs and was unable to render educational benefit.

The change from institutionalization to a public school setting was a change in placement for which amendments to the IEP were required.  These are two very different settings and the institution into which he had previously been placed was outside the District. An IEP meeting should have been held on the first day of school at the very latest to put together an appropriate offer of FAPE so that he could start school right away with appropriate supports and services in place from the very beginning.  That was not done, thereby resulting in an actionable denial of a FAPE.

Zakh’s grandmother, Carole Reynolds, claims she has been refused access to Zakh’s records in spite of her repeated requests. She stated, “We have made requests to receive a copy of his evaluation/assessment results before the October 15th temporary placement IEP meeting and were refused because they said it was not allowed by state law.”

As of 2004, when the IDEA was reauthorized, whether a state has its own timelines for certain aspects of the special education process or not, federal law now establishes mandated minimums and maximums.  If state law does not require the provision of student records prior to an IEP meeting or within a specified number of days, it doesn’t matter.  Federal law mandates that parents (or those acting in the legal capacity of parents, including emergency foster care status and legal guardians) be granted access to student records within 45 calendar days at the most, but definitely before any scheduled IEP meetings.? (See 34 CFR Sec. 300.613.)

Giving parents access to records is not the same thing as providing copies, however. Copies may be provided and school districts can charge photocopying fees so long as the imposition of fees do not prevent the parents from receiving the copies (see 34 CFR Sec. 300.617).  What this basically means is that if the school districts provide photocopies and wish to charge photocopying fees, those fees must be waived if the parents can’t afford to pay them since the imposition of photocopying fees would prevent them from obtaining the copies due to their economic hardship.

Arkansas’ Special Education Rules and Regulations can be found at http://arksped.k12.ar.us/sections/rulesandregulations.html. Arkansas defaults to the federal standards for the provision of parent access to student records.

Arkansas’ regulations require the provision of copies of student records if failing to provide them would otherwise deny parents access to those records. Such might be the case if the parents lacked transportation to go to the school site or district offices to review the records on site, if the amount of time necessary to read and review all the records would exceed the length of a school day or business day and the parents would need to take the records home to continue to review them, or if the parents work or care for children during the day and cannot take off to go access the records at a district location.

In a situation like this, it would by highly unlikely that the parents would be able to review the entire file with comprehension in one sitting, much less with school site and/or district personnel hovering over their shoulders.  Plus, if the parents decide to file for due process or file compliance complaints, they would need copies of the records to review and possibly submit as evidence.? In this case, the provision of copies of the records, as opposed to simply granting access to them at a district location, is warranted.

Ms. Reynolds reported that a temporary placement IEP meeting was held on October 15th, nearly 2 months after the school year started.  The reason she requested the IEP meeting was that Zakh had been previously placed in a residential facility and facility personnel believed that he could not be appropriately transitioned to a less restrictive setting without 1:1 aide support.  Staff at Beard Elementary allegedly refused to provide aide support via his IEP.

20 USC Sec. 1414(d)(2)(C)(I) requires that when students transfer within a state, the receiving school district “…shall provide such child with a free appropriate public education, including services comparable to those described in the previously held IEP, in consultation with the parents until such time as the local educational agency adopts the previously held IEP or develops, adopts, and implements a new IEP that is consistent with Federal and State law.” [Emphasis added.]  Again, this is a federal minimum standard and the states are free to add additional protections according to their own implementation methodologies. The Arkansas regulations mirror the federal requirements.  (See Sec. 8-03.3)

While, procedurally, Fort Smith had until such time as a new IEP was developed to implement the last IEP in effect from Zakh’s prior placement, the prior IEP was written for a residential placement, not a public school placement. Fort Smith could not implement the last IEP without placing Zakh in a residential placement at the District’s expense. That clearly was not done.  Given that it could not implement the IEP as written, it had no choice but to revise the IEP.  For the period from August 18 to October 15, the District failed to implement the IEP as written, which is a procedural violation.  However, the bigger issue is that a FAPE was denied during that same period on the basis that Zakh’s IEP was no longer appropriate to his then-current placement and needs.

At the October 15, 2009 IEP meeting, Ms. Reynolds says she requested a Functional Behavioral Analysis (“FBA”) and positive behavior intervention plan for Zakh, but no behavior plan was ever forthcoming. On October 30, 2009, Zakh experienced a behavioral meltdown related to his autism.

In the absence of a positive behavior intervention plan that would have helped to prevent the meltdown in the first place and given specific guidance to school personnel as to how to respond if the meltdown had nonetheless occurred, staff failed to prevent the behavior from escalating and then resorted to physical restraints when Zakh passed the point of no return. Staff received minor injuries in the course of restraining the 11-year-old child.? Instead of responding to the situation appropriately, school site staff called the police and had the cognitively impaired, autistic youngster taken away in handcuffs and charged with felony assault as though he had attacked people with criminal intent rather than struggled during an unlawful restraint, thereby contributing to the inadvertent injury of school personnel.

Zakh’s current home-school placement resulted from a disciplinary removal and he has been suspended for 12 school days this year. This constitutes as a change of placement pursuant to Arkansas regulations. This makes the need for a functional behavioral analysis mandatory at this point.

If an FBA was conducted previously but failed to result in a positive behavior intervention plan, then the family could disagree with the district’s FBA and ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (“IEE”) in the area of behavior as a corrective remedy.  Clearly any assessment of his behavior performed failed to result in a legitimate offer of FAPE since it failed to produce a positive behavior intervention plan.? It’s more likely, however, that the FBA hadn’t been done.  If it remains outstanding, then the family may be stuck with a District assessment at this point, though it’s long overdue if so.

The fact that this family has a court date on January 12, 2010 on the felony assault charges means the charges obviously haven’t been dropped and Fort Smith schools are prosecuting handicapped children for manifesting the symptoms of their handicapping conditions rather than providing them with a FAPE. What is more, in addition to the claims that this family most likely has under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”), they probably have actionable claims under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for discrimination on the basis of handicapping conditions. While the IDEA claims can only pursue remedy in the form of special education services, the 504 claims can pursue monetary damages.

The District’s board of education, which is comprised of Dr. Deanie Mehl, Ms. Shannon Blatt, Mr. Wyman R. Wade, Jr., Ms. Jeannie Cole, Ms. Barbara Hathcock, Dr. David Hunton, and Ms. Yvonne Keaton-Martin should be mortally ashamed and embarrassed right now, and are well-advised to keep their eyes on the horizon for a big, fat legal expense that should never have had the occasion to develop.

If you are an attorney in Arkansas who practices special education law on behalf of children with disabilities, please register with the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates at http://www.copaa.org so that Arkansas parents in situations like these can find you.  I will be attending the March 2010 COPAA conference.  If you will be attending as well, please sign up for Text Alerts so that I can connect with you in person at the conference.

Click here to download the podcast version of this article.

Podcast: Assessing Problem Behaviors in Special Education Students

On March 1, 2009, we originally published “Assessing Problem Behaviors in Special Education Students”. Throughout this school year, KPS4Parents is recording many of our past text-only articles as podcasts so that busy parents, educators, and interested taxpayers can download them and listen to them at their convenience.

As always, feel free to comment on our content. We appreciate the input of our readers and listeners to bring you the information you seek. You can either comment below or email us at info@kps4parents.org.

Click here to download the podcast “Assessing Problem Behaviors in Special Education Students.”

Services that Address IEP Behavior Goals

Once a special education student with behavioral issues receives an appropriate assessment of his/her behavior, and appropriate IEP goals are written to address the student’s behavioral needs, the IEP team has to determine what services and supports are necessary to see those goals achieved.  The types of services and supports a child requires in order to achieve his/her IEP goals can influence placement decisions, which is why placement is the last decision that should be made by the IEP team.

It is necessary to first know what services and supports will be required in order to determine what the Least Restrictive Environment (“LRE”) is for each particular special education student and, as we’ve stated before, the LRE is relative to the unique needs of each individual child.  What is the LRE for one student is not necessarily the LRE for another.  Placement must be in the least restrictive environment necessary in order for the services and supports to be provided such that the goals can be achieved, which varies from student to student.  That means that the selection of services, including the frequency, duration, and times of day they are provided, is a very critical step in the IEP process and it comes into play fairly late in the game.

To recap the process (as described in our prior postings in the “Techically Speaking” category), the IEP process begins with assessment.  The data yielded by the assessment is supposed to inform the IEP team of the student’s Present Levels of Performance (sometimes referred to as “PLOPs”).  Based on what is understood about the student’s Present Levels, the IEP team then must write measurable annual goals that describe in objective, empirical terms what outcomes the IEP is attempting to achieve – what specifically it is trying to teach the student to do.  Once that is known, the next step is the selection of services and supports.

There are a number of tools to address behavioral goals that can be used.  One of the most powerful tools is a Behavior Support Plan (“BSP”) or Positive Behavior Support Plan (“PBSP”).  Once a functional analysis of a student’s behavior has been conducted, the next step is supposed to be the creation of a BSP/PBSP unless?the analysis reveals that the behaviors do not significantly impact the child’s participation in his/her education.

A properly written BSP/PBSP is a thing of gold, but it’s no good to anyone if not everyone implements it the way it is written.  Behavior is a touchy thing.  When you have a child who realizes that the same behavior is met with different outcomes depending on who that child is with, what you often produce is a manipulative child who learns how to push peoples’ buttons.  When behavior is met with the same outcome regardless of who the child is with, the child gets a consistent message about certain behaviors.  For that reason, it is imperative that anyone working with a special education student who exhibits problematic behaviors follow the BSP/PBSP to the letter as best as he/she possibly can.

A BSP/PBSP starts out by describing the problem behavior so people know what they’re looking for. Identifying the function that the behavior serves (i.e. to avoid math problems, to avoid writing, to gain access to more preferred items or activities, etc.) allows people know what need the child is trying to meet and, therefore, the types of responses they should have to the behaviors.  The BSP/PBSP should then describe what responses to give to each type of problematic situation if the behavior manifests, but, more importantly, it should describe what replacement behavior will be taught to the child so that he/she has a more appropriate way of seeing his/her needs met without engaging in the problematic behavior.

It’s not enough to tell a kid to stop doing something.  You have to tell them what is appropriate for them to do instead.  If you’re trying to drive a nail with a banana peel, you’re just going to make a mess.  But, if all somebody does is tell you to stop slinging that useless banana peel at the nail and fails to give you a hammer and show you how to use it, you’re still going to be stuck with a nail that hasn’t been driven.  What you were attempting to accomplish remains unachieved.

Children need to be taught things.  They can’t be expected to somehow magically know things or figure things out as well as more experienced adults.  Children with certain types of disabilities have a harder time picking up what seems obvious to most people, requiring explicit instruction on more basic concepts.  A BSP/PBSP describes what fundamental concepts are being taught, or refers to the behavioral goals which describe what concepts are being targeted, so that the child acquires the reasoning skills necessary to handle situations more successfully.

I’m a fan of Diana Browning Wright’s work. She’s done trainings in California and I have students whom I represent whose PBSPs are written up on Diana’s forms.  They’re very well organized and make total sense.

Another tool that some schools try to use is a “Behavior Contract.”  I’m not a huge fan of these at all.  A “Behavior Contract” is something usually used in general education in which a student makes a written commitment to follow school rules.  It utterly fails to identify what need the student was attempting to meet by engaging in the inappropriate behavior and only speaks to what the child will do; there is nothing that describes what the adult school site personnel will do to assist the student in dealing with whatever is provoking his/her inappropriate behaviors so that they don’t present problems for the student anymore.

Instead, the child is stripped of whatever coping strategies he/she had, even if they were poor ones, and left with nothing he/she can do at all.  This creates a great sense of powerlessness, which can turn on its heel in an instant and lead to more escalated behaviors meant to regain whatever power the child feels he/she has lost.

I’ve seen it happen too many times.  What was meant to stop a problem behavior only served to reinforce it and is particularly horrible to deal with among children with issues involving anxiety, paranoia, and/or Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  Their handicapping conditions magnify, sometimes exponentially, their reactions to having their actual needs ignored and left with no way to see them met, while everyone else is focusing on what they inappropriately did in an effort to see those needs met.

A good BSP/PBSP should also include a description of what consequences and reinforcers should be used to encourage the use of the appropriate replacement behavior and discourage the use of the inappropriate behavior.  By consequences, I do not mean punishment. A consequence is anything that results from an occurrence or event.

In the realm of positive behavioral intervention, a consequence is any outcome that discourages a behavior from reoccurring.  This is often the intent of punishment, but punishment is an artificial consequence that the child may associate with something other than his/her own inappropriate behavior, such as the person who is punishing him/her.

Consequences should fit the behavior and they work best if they are natural, inadvertent outcomes of doing the wrong thing.? In my example above, the natural consequence of trying to drive a nail with a banana skin is a gooey mess and a nail that still hasn’t been driven.  That by itself is enough to discourage me from ever trying to drive a nail with a banana skin again.  It clearly didn’t work.

But, associating consequences with one’s own behavior is actually more subtle and difficult than it sounds.  For children with relatively inexperienced, growing (and, thus, continually changing) minds, it’s even harder.  For children with certain types of special needs, it can often be agonizingly difficult.  The connections have to be taught.  So, the consequences to inappropriate behaviors and reinforcers of appropriate behaviors should be delivered as soon after the behaviors have manifested as possible, particularly when first starting out with a new behavior program.  Over time, the reinforcers can be faded.  The idea is that the use of the appropriate behavior will become intrinsically rewarding because it yields success without drama and the need to artificially reinforce will disappear.

The use of appropriate data collection tools is critical. Data collection should be naturally built into the behavior goals and BSP/PBSP. It’s the only way to track progress and measure the degree to which the replacement behavior is taking over for the problematic behavior. Therefore, data sheets have to be created right away at the beginning so that data collection can begin as soon as the school site personnel start implementing the goals.

Parent training is also a really valuable piece to a successful behavioral intervention program.  Just as it is imperative that the child be met with the same response to his/her behavior by all of the staff working with the child, it is equally important that he/she is met with the same response at home.

I’ve seen some of the best school-based behavior strategies in the world completely unravel because no one thought to explain to the parents how the behaviors were being responded to at school.  The child would go home to a completely different set of expectations and responses to problematic behaviors and an entire school day’s worth of intervention might as well have never happened.  The next day, the school site staff would be starting all over again.

By training the parents on the behavioral strategies being used at school, particularly if they can collect at least some data on what they are doing, makes them more involved, gives them greater understanding of what the school site team is trying to do, makes them partners in the process rather than outside observers, makes them more comfortable about how their child’s behavior is being handled by the school site staff, and creates much needed consistency that will help make the intervention successful.

Do you have any other suggestions regarding behavioral supports and services that can be made part of a student’s IEP? Post your comment with your suggestions below.