Our position on ABA
Every child has a right to an education, and it should be one which enables them to thrive and succeed. In addition, every individual deserves to have choice and control over how they live their lives. To achieve both, we fundamentally believe that education and support for autistic children and young adults needs to be person-centred, with the individual’s preferences, voice, and interests leading decision making.
We are aware of the controversy that is linked to Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and that some autistic people have had a negative experience of ABA. This is a result of historical malpractice by an individual or group of individuals, where the principles and understanding of behaviour were applied in unethical and inhumane ways that didn’t demonstrate any respect or dignity for the individual. Such practice is categorically not permitted by the professional and regulatory guidelines that govern practitioners today, and we are supporting the UK Society for Behaviour Analysis (UK-SBA) to ensure any examples of bad practice are addressed nationally (please see below).
The modern practice of Behaviour Analysis that is used today has completely evolved from its early roots; however, it continues to be viewed by some as controversial. There is a lot of misinformation shared online, and particularly on social media, about ABA – typically that it causes harm. These blanket accusations are completely at odds with our professional experiences and bear no resemblance or accuracy to the practice we use in our services.
We’re very proud of our services, the interdisciplinary approach we take and the impact we achieve. We’re also an organisation that is ‘proud to challenge’. Here we seek to clarify our practice and common misconceptions regarding behaviour analysis. We also share information and links for parents on what best practice should look like in the field of behaviour analysis and autism education, and the standards and criteria that practitioners must meet. If you have any specific questions not addressed here or would like to visit our services to see our practice, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
At BeyondAutism we are dedicated to ensuring autistic children and young adults access an education which empowers a life full of choice, independence and opportunity. The safeguarding and wellbeing of the children and young adults attending our services is at the heart of everything we do as an organisation, and we are committed to providing a safe, inclusive, and supportive environment for every member of our community.
Behaviour analysis is not a therapy or a treatment approach. It is a data-based science of understanding behaviour. We use behaviour analysis to underpin our understanding of our learners. Alongside teaching, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy it is used as part of a multidisciplinary approach to increase language, communication, academic and self-help skills, tailored to each learners’ specific needs. We also use practice underpinned by behaviour analysis and guided by the principles of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) and Verbal Behaviour (VB) to help reduce behaviours that challenge or that limit opportunities or present barriers to learning, by teaching functional alternatives.
We embrace individuality
We respect and embrace the unique qualities and interests of each of our learners. Many engage in self-stimulatory behaviours that we would never try to remove or suppress unless they were causing harm to the individual or those around them. We work with our learners to ensure they are ready to learn. We’re working to break the cycle of prejudice that many autistic people face in schools, workplaces and communities, and are calling on these settings to be more inclusive so that autistic people have the same choice and opportunities as others. Our priority is what is best for the individual and what skills they need for their safety and independence.
Practice that focuses on improving quality of life
We will never use any procedures or interventions that cause any form of physical or emotional harm to a person. We are dedicated to enhancing quality of life through positive educational experiences, understanding and meeting the needs of our learners, and teaching them the skills they need to live a fulfilling life. Our work is function based – we look to see what is causing a certain behaviour to happen, we then look at solutions that provide functional alternatives for any behaviours that are creating barriers to learning, or that are harmful to the individual or those around them.
Teaching and generalising skills
We teach in a way that enables our students to learn most effectively. This is a combination of formal table top work, teaching in the natural environment and when ready in group based teaching setting. We strive to focus on teaching and learning in a natural environment, incorporating teaching opportunities in activities a pupil enjoys, as this is the best way to teach and generalise skills. We teach a lot through play and encourage peer interactions at every opportunity. Our ethos is just enough support and we continuously promote independence.
Evidence based practice
We see rapid and sustained outcomes across our services. When used in the right way – as a set of underlying principles that work alongside therapies to meet the needs of the individual – a behaviour analysis approach to teaching autistic children and young adults can have a real impact on the progress of learners. There is a wealth of published evidence¹ in global scientific journals that supports this, showing that the approach is effective in helping people to learn new skills, as well as reducing behaviours that may be harmful to them or others. Much of this evidence is based on observational studies, demonstrating progress with those involved. There are not many randomised controlled experiments in the field – there are rightly ethical questions around studies that provide children in one group access to something that could help them which is denied to the control group.
Our quality assurance measures
We have robust quality assurance measures and processes in place to promote best practice and ensure our learners are safe and happy at all times. This includes internal and external moderation. Our practice, policies and procedures have been rated as highly effective by Ofsted, and our leadership teams have extensive experience of working in the fields of behaviour analysis and special educational needs, both in mainstream and specialist education settings. We work in partnership with parents and families, with daily two-way communication to share progress or updates on targets, and for parents to provide feedback.
Learner wellbeing is paramount in all activities and ensuring all learners have the appropriate tools to raise concerns, share their feelings and communicate their wants and needs is fundamental to our practice. This is evidenced through Tram House receiving the Wellbeing Award, an award that Park House is due to be assessed for. More information can be found on our schools’ website.
Best practice, useful resources and further reading
Information for Parents/Carers and Service Users – UK Society for Behaviour Analysis (uk-sba.org) – this link has a helpful guide to the standards that Consultants, BCBAs and tutors/practitioners should meet when working in the field of behaviour analysis.
UK-SBA have also written a piece addressing some of the common misrepresentations of Behaviour Analysis in their document Behaviour Analysis, Autism and Learning Disability – Fact and Fiction.
Tracie Coultas-Pitman (CEO) is a member of the UK-SBA Board of Directors.
A message from the UK-SBA
The UK Society for Behaviour Analysis (UK-SBA) would like to encourage anyone with questions, comments or concerns regarding Behaviour Analysis practice (often known as ABA/PBS) in the UK to contact them at email@example.com. We would particularly like to hear from people who receive, or have received, services, or who identify as autistic.
The UK-SBA is passionate about ensuring practice in the UK is values-led, person-centred and collaborative, and that it is undertaken with the consent or assent of each individual. The Society continually strives to ensure it meets the needs of those it serves.
All feedback will be gratefully received by the UK-SBA’s Public Protection and Benefit Committee and will be reviewed by an Independent Expert Advisory Group. This new independent and external group will review resulting proposed actions and agree or suggest alternatives. Your valuable input will help to ensure practice continues to evolve positively here in the UK.
If you would like to become even more involved and join our Independent Expert Advisory Group, the UK-SBA would love to hear from you.
- UK-SBA evidence base, https://uk-sba.org/evidence-base