By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Founding Editor, bSci21.org
Dr. Melody Musgrove, Director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), within the U.S. Department of Education, recently sent a letter to state officials expressing “concerns within the field” of special education. Specifically, OSEP received reports that treatments for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are overly focused on ABA therapy. She noted that “programs may be including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists exclusively without including, or considering input from, speech language pathologists and other professionals who provide different types of specific therapies that are appropriate for children with ASD.”
She specifically cited sections of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which outline several domains of child functioning to be assessed, including cognitive, physical, social, emotional, adaptive, and communication skills, in addition to intelligence testing and various medical or physiological assessments.
Dr. Musgrove concluded her letter by noting that “ABA therapy is just one methodology used to address the needs of children with ASD” and cautioned that services should be “made based on the unique needs of each individual child with a disability.”
There are many facets to this issue. For example, from an academic perspective behavior analysts would be quick to note that individualized treatment is the distinguishing feature of their approach, and that behavior analysis can address all of the domains discussed above.
However, on a practical level, the issue is more complex. For one, the primary aim of Dr. Musgrove’s letter was to ensure treatment plans adhere to legal practices, and the legal framework – IDEA – rightly recognizes that “behavior” itself is an interdisciplinary subject-matter. No one science has a monopoly on it.
For related reading on this topic, check out a recent article by bSci21 Contributing Writer Chelsea Wilhite, M.A., BCBA, in which she suggested behavior analysts should increase their efforts to learn from other sciences.
Let us know what you think about Dr. Musgrove’s letter in the comments below, and don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox.
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at email@example.com.