Once the back-to-school season approaches, many parents will begin to wonder how the upcoming school year will go. For parents with special needs children, this question may repeat in their minds as they remember the struggles they faced in the previous year, or as they hope for a teacher with a helping hand. Below will discuss a program developed to support these children to better meet classroom expectations and receive the benefits of school.
Where it Began
As a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, you undoubtedly encounter several groups of people that you are tasked to help; these people can include students, families, and teachers. For a period of time in my career, I focused on supporting teachers and after-school caregivers in the classroom. As I observed the techniques used by teachers and the behaviors exhibited in the classroom by children, I went quickly to work developing strategies to address these behaviors more effectively. In some cases, these strategies were met with backlash or inconsistency, but in order to better support the children, I spent more time observing classrooms learning the routines, expectations, and limitations each had. I began to notice that, as clinicians, we provide techniques, but sometimes don’t take into account how truly unattainable they may be.
When a child enters a learning environment without the prerequisite skills needed…some are met with a learning curve that may result in maladaptive behaviors.
Teachers are required to meet a variety of expectations in the classroom, some easier than others. When a child enters a learning environment without the prerequisite skills needed (i.e. remaining seated, following group instruction, communication, etc.), some are met with a learning curve that may result in maladaptive behaviors. These maladaptive behaviors may include: tantrum behavior, sensory seeking behavior (e.g. self-stimulatory behavior), hyperactivity, and/or inattention. In the classrooms, I would observe frustration from both the student and the teacher when these behaviors occurred. Understandably, it was difficult for teachers to follow through with techniques while still managing an entire classroom. For this reason, I began to develop a program to support these children in obtaining those prerequisite skills.
The Program Overview
The Learning Readiness Program, as it came to be called, is a curriculum designed to prepare children for a learning environment. It was developed to teach children the prerequisite skills needed to independently and successfully meet teacher and school expectations. The program focuses on socializing with peers, attending, communication, following group directions, transitioning between activities, following visual schedules, independence in work, etc. Those enrolled will work through programs developed based on the STAR curriculum (Strategies for Teaching Based on Autism Research). This curriculum includes programs that are designed to support the success of children with autism in the classroom. The children continue to receive 1:1 support throughout group activities, and opportunities for more intensive 1:1 instruction are also built into the schedule. A BCBA monitors programs weekly and data on each child’s progress is collected on a daily basis. To best acclimate children to a school environment, the room where most of the curriculum takes place mirrors a classroom, with class sizes no larger than 6-8 students. The program includes an option of attending for a half- day (9:00AM-1:00PM) and/or full day (9:00-3:00PM), and a graduation ceremony is held upon completion of the program and a summary of the child’s success is provided.
As the time a child spends in the program continues, we strategically incorporate opportunities to fade out 1:1 support and increase independence.
Why Consider the Program?
A study conducted by Carr, E. G., Taylor, J. C. and Robinson, S. (1991), found that teachers provided less instruction to those children that presented problem behaviors than those who did not misbehave in response to instruction.
Given this, it’s easily determined that enrolling a child in a specialized program will allow for a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) to work on any maladaptive behaviors that present themselves during a classroom setting. Unlike a classroom, the Learning Readiness Program is held in a 1:1 setting. Additionally, RBTs are not only trained to address behavior, but do not have the added pressure of meeting school board expectations and classmate needs. As the time a child spends in the program continues, we strategically incorporate opportunities to fade out 1:1 support and increase independence. This is done to ensure the skills taught are generalized when transitioning into a school classroom, where that crucial 1:1 ratio is not feasible.
After the program, 40% of the participants enrolled in the upcoming school year and have adjusted to school expectations; there have been no complaints from caregivers since their child’s enrollment.
Is the Program Successful?
During the Summer of 2019, a pilot for the Learning Readiness program began at the InBloom Learning Center in South Florida. The program included four males and one female for a full day. After the program, 40% of the participants enrolled in the upcoming school year and have adjusted to school expectations, and there have been no complaints from caregivers since their child’s enrollment. All participants during the pilot program displayed an increase in skill acquisition and a notable decrease in maladaptive behaviors.
How to Join?
The program will run annually consisting of four semesters that coincide with the calendar year; enrollment in classes are quarterly. Our program is currently fully active in our South Florida location, and will be starting soon in Orlando. Before the end of 2020, the program will be running fully in each of our Learning Centers. If you have a child you feel could benefit from this program, ask your BCBA about how it could work for your kiddo. If you have any other questions, you are encouraged to reach out directly to me, jessica@InBloomautism.com, for more information on how to get started!