School in 2020: Advice from a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.
I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) based in Colorado Springs who specializes with working one-on-one with children and adolescents in their homes with their caregivers and families. In my field, I have found that it is important to find out the “why” your child is doing something or not doing something before you can figure out “how” to help. Some kids really want to earn something like a new toy or game, while others want one-on-one time with their favorite person, and some just want to know that they don’t have to do all of it or that they can end early to do whatever they want. It is also important to consider the child’s current health such as regularity or having a headache in addition to any additional stressors in the home.
When considering your options for how to best prepare your child for the school year, consider these “why” factors prior to choosing what model might be best. For some learners, their challenging behaviors are too extreme for them to access quality education virtually while others may actually excel without the scheduling constraints of a typical school environment. Parents need to consider how much time they are able to dedicate to their child’s online or in-home education. Parents may consult an ABA therapist (BCBA) to help facilitate behavior management while learning at home through the parent- or tutor-led state-accredited program.
If in-home is the best option when considering health and safety, it will be important to dedicate a space for learning. The environment should not be distracting but should offer visual supports that may help the child be more successful with generalizing what they have learned at home to the school setting. Providing a table with one or two chairs, a quiet space that is separate from distractions such as outside or siblings, a visual schedule to show what needs to be done and how it needs to be completed, a reinforcement schedule to show what is being earned (or removed) for completion and how often, and materials that are easily accessible and similar to those used at school.
The child’s Individualized Education Plan or Annual Review (IEP or ARD) should be reviewed. If your child receives Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy or Adaptive PE, or Social and Emotional Supports, it will be important to provide for those services as well. If private therapy is not an option, request an IEP meeting so that the online school can provide these services via a tele-platform.
Be empathetic with your child. Remember to check-in with your child often. Reassess when it seems as though things aren’t working. When evaluating returning to school, if you choose to do online or in-home, teach your child proper health and safety protocols such as how to wash hands well. If they tolerate wearing a mask, encourage doing so. If they do not and if wearing one is appropriate for your child, teach them how to wear one by encouraging a few minutes (or seconds!) at a time as well as using a material that is comfortable and something that your child might like (favorite color, character, material, etc.).
If you have any doubts, reach out to the school. The teachers and administrators are just as concerned about the health and safety of their staff and children as we are as parents. In addition, each school is obligated by law to provide the least restrictive environment for every child’s education. It is your child’s education and your right as a parent to advocate for whatever you feel is best for them to learn. And remember, we all fail. It’s ok. These are not “normal” circumstances.
A failure is not always a mistake, it may be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying. -B.F. Skinner
- Meg Solomon, CEO, MS Ed, BCBA
ABA Across Environments