By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen
AUTISM ACADEMY – Parents of children with autism sometimes face frustrating challenges trying to take a traditional approach to discipline.
This is why the Autism Academy sees behavioral excellence as a critical part of their mission. The Autism Academy utilizes several methods to modify and teach replacement behaviors.
According to principal Shawn Davis, the Autism Academy primarily uses six diverse methods.
“The first is the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). This is the use of positive reinforcements to achieve a desired behavior,” she said. “When desired behavior is followed by some type of reward, the desired behavior is more likely to be repeated.”
This technique helps increase desired behaviors and reduce those that may cause harm or interfere with learning, she says. This system requires lots of positive praise, prompting and redirection.
The second approach is Natural Environment Training (NET). NET deals with situations in the moment.
“It is facilitating play, going out to the community and giving real world experiences to assist students in understanding ‘unwritten rules,’” Davis explained. “The idea is to capture a moment of high interest and use it to teach a new skill.”
As a result, students with autism learn to maneuver as independently in life as possible.
As a third strategy, the Autism Academy uses several methods of communication to cultivate good behavior.
“We use Augmentative Alternative Communication devices, sign language, and Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) to minimize frustration due to a lack of communication abilities,” she said.
The fourth and fifth are daily routine approaches.
“We have small groups, for every 4 students, there is 1 adult, which decreases the likelihood of ongoing behavioral concerns,” Davis said. “We have sensory areas within the classroom and a sensory room to assist in deescalating unwanted behaviors.”
The Autism Academy maintains classroom break areas for students to utilize when frustrated. To help eliminate unwanted frustrations, school administrators created a sixth strategy based on object and picture schedules. Students with Autism have a heightened sense of need for routine.
“The object and picture schedules help keep students on a schedule,” Davis explained. “As a result, it assists with decreasing unwanted behaviors.”
The school also has a full-time behavioral specialist that transitions from Peoria, Gilbert and Tempe redefining traditional techniques to facilitate best behavioral practices.