Christopher and ABA school support worker Natasha McDonald.

Christopher and ABA school support worker Natasha McDonald.

School districts encouraged to follow Surrey model

Parents push for applied behaviour analysis support in schools for children with autism.

A White Rock mother is working with a Lower Mainland-based group to encourage school districts to adopt a learning method beneficial to children with autism.

Dione Costanzo and the ABA Support Network aim to incorporate the use of applied behaviour analysis (ABA) – a structured teaching method in which functional skills are broken down and taught one step at a time – into schools in order to to continue the progress children with autism make at home.

Currently, Surrey is one of the only school districts in the province that accommodates the method.

Costanzo – whose 11-year-old son Christopher was diagnosed with autism seven years ago – said that without incorporating the structured teaching at school, the progress made at home would diminish.

“Imagine if you had spent years and years and thousands of dollars, and it just stops. For some families, that’s the story. They spend time and money and getting to a place of progress and then, when they’re in schools that don’t accommodate ABA programs, in a lot of cases, the children regress,” she said.

The Surrey School District is one of few that does accommodate ABA programs, she noted, adding that her son has benefitted from the the structured learning method due to an established system for hiring ABA-trained teaching aides at Crescent Park Elementary.

However, many other school districts have yet to take that step, Costanzo said, adding that frustrated parents are leaving their districts or going to private school.

“There is so much stress and expense in these parents’ lives that it’s easier for them,” she said.

The group has reached out to provincial minister of education Peter Fassbender, as well as several school districts, with a press release and have organized presentations, which are put on by parents and behavioural consultants reviewing what ABA is and what it can look like in schools.

The group is also using Surrey’s success as an example of the benefits of implementing the learning method, she said.

“We’re trying to facilitate a discussion that can bridge a gap between districts that are not currently accommodating ABA,” she said. “We want to inspire them to start on that journey as well.”

The ABA Support Network is made up of more than 1,000 families throughout the province. The group holds monthly meetings in a number of communities – including South Surrey and White Rock.

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