Here's a trick question to get things started. True or False: In order to earn a degree in special education, one simply needs to take all of the courses required for a special education degree? The answer is false. In order to earn a degree in special education, one needs to PASS all the courses required for a special education degree. I think of this distinction often when people ask me, "How long does it take to learn ABA?" or "How long will it take to train my child's school aide?"
Learning ABA, or more specifically, implementing ABA therapy correctly is only indirectly related to time. Implementing ABA therapy correctly is directly related to performance. In an earlier blog, I mentioned that at the Lovaas Institute, we train instructors in such a way that emphasis is placed on the evaluation of performance-based objectives, relevant to the implementation of behavioral treatment for children with autism. Our internal certification process requires a demonstration of the skills you have learned. Certification indicates to parents and other professionals that you not only know what to do, but can actually do it.
In another recent blog, Carol Villars stated, "What I would love to see is a discussion on how to properly train the TA's working with the students." Here's my input into that discussion. Proper training of TA's includes four specific elements:
Element 1: Observation. The aide should observe someone who is already competent working with a child actually working with that child. The observation should correspond to the time the aide will be working with the child. Thus, if the aide will be working with the child all day, the observation should last all day.
Element 2: Lecture. Approximately three to six hours should be spent with the aide talking about basic principles of applied behavior analysis and how they specifically relate to this child.
Element 3: Model – Demonstrate – Feedback. This is the heart of training. A competent person who is already familiar with working with the child should model what to do for a short period of time, the new aide should then take over and demonstrate the same thing, the competent person should then give brief verbal feedback (e.g., one thing the person could/should do differently and one thing the person did well). This procedure continues, with the competent person gradually modeling less and the new aide gradually demonstrating more.
Element 4: Assessment. The new aide is assessed on specific, performance-based objectives, that demonstrate they can correctly work with the child.
In her blog response, Carol Villars followed up by stating, "There should be some kind of criteria on who can actually implement the program and do it properly." In my next blog, I'll give an example of a criteria list for aides who can competently implement principles from applied behavior analysis. This basic criteria list can be used to generate assessments.