Board gets differing plans for teaching autistic children Proposals by parents, school system differ on ABA therapy

June 12, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Children with autism in Howard County schools will receive increased instructional time and their teachers will get additional training if the school board approves proposed changes to the special education program.

But some parents who are not confident the proposed changes would meet the needs of their autistic children presented a counterproposal to the school system's plan at a school board meeting last night.

"One theoretical framework of teaching children with autism does not fit all," said Sue Ann Shafley, the parent of a 3-year-old and a member of the Howard County Chapter of the Autism Society of America.

"The incidental program the county has implemented does not address the needs of all of our children with autism," she said.

Shafley and about two dozen other parents, who attended the meeting, responded to Shafley's comments with tears and a standing ovation.

The parents feel that the county's program will not provide for students who need a therapy that has proven successful for some autistic children.

That therapy, called discrete trial therapy or applied behavior analysis (ABA), breaks down lessons into small parts and teaches them one at a time. Some parents feel it should be offered as the primary mode of instruction for autistic children in Howard.

The county's proposal would offer ABA as one of several therapies and treatments, said Sandra Erickson, associate superintendent in charge of instruction.

"I believe we are committed to offering [ABA] as an option," Erickson said. "I believe parents were hesitant about our commitment to this as an option. I sense that they needed more guarantees that we were not opposed to ABA."

Seventy-one Howard students have autism, a learning disorder that can cause anti-social behavior. That number is expected to increase to as many as 100 within two years, said Sue Brown, a service coordinator for special education.

The school system's proposed changes for the program would be funded under $1.13 million allocated for the fiscal year starting July 1. But special education staff members will request additional funding in the operating budget for a total of $2.13 million the following fiscal year, Brown said.

The plan would increase the number of hours of instruction for toddlers, preschoolers and kindergartners. It also would involve parents more intimately in creating instruction plans for students, increase staff training and expand summer services.

School board members are scheduled to vote on the plan at their next meeting, June 25.

Also at last night's meeting:

* The board approved a 10-cent increase in school lunch prices in each food category, including breakfast, lunch and milk. The most expensive meal offered, the so-called Adult Super Lunch, will cost $3.10. The changes go into effect when school begins in August.

* School officials reported plans to upgrade technology to make it possible to broadcast live board meetings on the local cable station, Cable 8. The upgrades would include installing cameras in the board chambers and adding an extra camera for a total of four.

* The board approved plans to implement a new state law on pesticide spraying in schools. In August, all elementary school students will be notified before spraying occurs, and all middle and high school students who request notification will be tTC contacted.

* Maintenance officials reported that the unit is understaffed, and the budget has not kept pace with enrollment growth in the school system. They also called for additional employee training.

* Board members approved expansion of the prekindergarten program for a total of seven elementary campuses. There are now four. The programs will be offered at Dasher Green, Guilford, Laurel Woods, Phelps Luck, Running Brook, Swansfield and Talbott Springs elementaries.

* Board members canceled the July 9 meeting because of an unusually light agenda, adding it to the July 23 meeting.

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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