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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Autism and New Jersey Schools

At, Shannon Mullen writes:

In New Jersey, one in every 94 children has an autism spectrum disorder, the highest incidence rate among the 16 states surveyed by the federal government.

DIFFERENT TEACHING METHODS: That means that students often have to be taught in a completely different way than other children. Yet as many parents soon discover, the way that happens in New Jersey — which has no uniform curriculum standards for autism programs or any special training requirements for teachers who work with autistic students — can be as confounding as autism itself.

"There is no uniformity across the state. It's a problem we constantly run into," said Gary Weitzen, executive director of POAC Autism Services, a parent-run, grass-roots autism education group based in Brick. "Districts very often right next door are doing radically different things."

But there are no state standards for what an ABA program ought to consist of, so districts can tell parents they have an "ABA-based" program or boast that their teachers are "ABA-trained" without having to meet any minimum requirements.

Even when teachers are well versed in the principles of ABA or another autism methodology, their supervisors rarely are, at least not in the public school system.

Autism experts say a credible ABA-based program should be overseen by a board-certified behavior analyst, a certification that requires extensivecourse work and closely supervised field experience. But neither the job title of behavior analyst nor the certification process to become one are recognized by the state Education Department, so few districts have such an expert on staff.
One encouraging sign, Weitzen said, is that in the past 11 years, thousands of teachers from hundreds of school districts across the state voluntarily have attended POAC's workshops. While a good start, he noted, a half-day workshop is not sufficient to ensure that autism programs are being run effectively.

"We stress that you need consistency, you need follow-up, you need BCBAs (Board Certified Behavior Analysts) in the school," Weitzen said.