Another late night at the Capitol last night, showing support for the passage of HB 5425. Around midnight, just before the legislative session ended, the Senate voted by consent (unanimously) to pass HB 5425. Yes, this is the same bill that previously included very concerning language regarding Connecticut’s Burden of Proof in special education due process hearings. However, thankfully, that language did not make it into the version of the bill which the Education Committee presented to the House. So, the bill as voted upon by the Senate last night, and presumably signed into law by the Governor in the next couple of weeks, thankfully leaves the burden of proof untouched.
What’s more, this new piece of legislation offers much needed protection to students with autism spectrum disorders, to make sure that people who are providing ABA (applied behavior analysis) services to them through their IEPs are actually credentialed to do so.
The specific language of Section 2 of HB 5425 to which I refer reads as follows:
Sec. 2. (NEW) (Effective July 1, 2010) (a) On and after July 1, 2012, a local or regional board of education that is responsible for providing special education and related services to a child, pursuant to section 10-76a of the general statutes, shall provide applied behavior analysis services to any such child with autism spectrum disorder if the individualized education plan or plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires such services. (1) Such services shall be provided by a person who is, subject to the provisions of subsection (b) of this section, (A) licensed by the Department of Public Health or certified by the Department of Education and such services are within the scope of practice of such license or certificate, or (B) certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board as a behavior analyst or assistant behavior analyst, provided such assistant behavior analyst is working under the supervision of a certified behavior analyst. (2) A teacher or paraprofessional may implement the individualized education plan or plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 providing for such applied behavior analysis services, provided such teacher or paraprofessional is under the supervision of a person described in subdivision (1) of this subsection. For purposes of this section, “applied behavior analysis” means the design, implementation and evaluation of environmental modifications, using behavioral stimuli and consequences, including the use of direct observation, measurement and functional analysis of the relationship between the environment and behavior, to produce socially significant improvement in human behavior.
(b) If the Commissioner of Education determines that there are insufficient certified or licensed personnel available to provide applied behavior analysis services in accordance with the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, the commissioner may authorize the provision of such services by persons who: (1) Hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field; (2) have completed (A) a minimum of nine credit hours of coursework from a course sequence approved by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, or (B) coursework that meets the eligibility requirement to sit for the board certified behavior analyst examination; and (3) are supervised by a board certified behavior analyst.
(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the inclusion of applied behavior analysis services in an individualized education plan or plan pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
For years now, I have been frustrated when I discover upon a little investigation that what the school district is telling my clients is an “ABA program” is, in fact, not. Since so many schools know that parents of children with autism are requesting ABA services, far too many have just started calling the behavioral support they’re already providing ABA, even when there is no Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) remotely connected to the program.
Many of these faux ABA programs fall into the realm of “just because you say it, doesn’t make it so.”
(There is a corollary of the “faux ABA” approach, by the way, which is when a BCBA actually IS connected to the program, but the school district only authorizes their involvement on a very occasional, limited basis…like say twice a year for a half an hour to consult for 15 students. I call this “diet ABA,” because it’s so watered down.)
Failing to have legitimately trained staff providing applied behavior analysis services is problematic for any number of reasons.
For example, if the Parents and the school are trying to ascertain whether ABA is an appropriate intervention for the student, it would be useful to know if the kid is, well, you know…actually getting it. We also don’t want kids with disabilities to be missing valuable intervention time while unreliable methods are being used. And of course, there is the risk that school districts will spend much-needed resources on people who are claiming to have skills that they don’t.
All of these factors came into play in an outrageous situation which is part of what became the impetus for the legislation passed last night. A woman held herself out as qualified to provide ABA services to school districts, and she was written into several children’s IEPs to do so. It appears she had absolutely no credentials, and had even fabricated degrees. It further appears that the school districts in question did little to check into her background, even though she was paid over a hundred thousand dollars by one school district alone. Nice. She currently has a number of criminal charges pending against her.
Many of the children with autism who received services from this imposter are or were non-verbal. They couldn’t tell their parents when something was wrong. How very scary.
The Parents involved in that matter did more than just get angry; they got motivated and organized, and they sought to change the law so that this wouldn’t happen again. Along with the extraordinary stewardship and vision of Suzanne Letso of the Connecticut Center for Child Development, the strong support of Connecticut’s Attorney General, and the ultimate commitment and hard work of many state Senators and Representatives, they got it done. Good for them! Special mention must go to Sen. Gaffey, Rep. Fleischmann, Sen. Duff, Rep. Lyddy, Rep. Abercrombie, and Sen. Crisco. Having spent many hours in Hartford attending Committee hearings and other sessions, their tireless patience and interest has my genuine respect.
Now, before all the spin starts and school administrators try to scare people about what this law means, let me be clear: nothing in this new legislation requires that ABA services must be included in a child’s IEP. It only says that, if the child’s IEP team decides they are necessary, they are to be provided by people with credentials.
Heck, we require that massage therapists have documented credentials; why not people providing ABA to our most vulnerable children?
Now that we have this legislation passed, I guess the next step will be to make sure that school districts comply with it. That and hoping that from now on, perhaps schools will be doing background checks on anyone who works with kids. But that’s a different post.