As a parent of a child with autism, you may be working toward an eventual move from ABA therapy to a successful classroom setting for your child. Or, perhaps your child is already in public school but could benefit from additional ABA therapeutic support. In either case, your choice of ABA provider is an important one.
For the best possible outcome, it makes sense to choose an ABA provider that has expertise in the public school environment, according to Jen Link and Jillian Burgard, co-founders of Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills.
“Kids will often have success at ABA therapy, but when they get to school, they aren’t as prepared as they could be. That’s a huge roadblock and really frustrating because they were doing great things that just didn’t transfer to a classroom setting,” says Link, who is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).
Because the path to public school involves an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and, oftentimes, collaboration between teachers, administrators, school social workers and therapists, families benefit from working with an ABA provider that has experience navigating this complex and often frustrating experience.
In addition to accessing best-in-class ABA therapy, children and families at Roots Autism Solutions are supported by leadership with vast knowledge inside the public school system, even within Chicago Public Schools.
“My background is in early childhood education and I have a master’s degree in counseling and school administrative experience at the district level. I understand what goes into an IEP and also how to support children,” says Burgard, whose 15-year experience spans the development of transition planning, best classroom practices for special education, IEP development and mediation at the IEP table.
“At the end of the day, I was tasked with working on behalf of the school and the parent, creating agreement for what each team member could do within the time frame to make the child successful and the parents happy,” she says. Armed with this expertise, Burgard connected with Link to synthesize their joint experience to form Roots Autism Solutions.
Inside knowledge of the public school system
Strong skill development through ABA therapy is only one component of a child’s successful experience at school. When parents are supported through the IEP process by therapists who know their child, the potential for a positive outcome is greater. The staff at Roots will work with parents to gather documentation, build a binder and even attend the meeting.
“If your family is working on developing your child’s first IEP, and we’ve had the opportunity to work with your child, we are there to provide information from those early years, from ages 1 to 3, on what has and hasn’t worked for that individual child,” says Link.
That support extends beyond the IEP table. At Roots, all staff members have been trained to recognize and build realistic expectations of the school resources and teacher expertise — and to be a resource for classroom teachers whenever possible.
That transition to school doesn’t have to exclude the benefits of ABA therapy or the expertise of BCBAs, Link says. “There might be one BCBA for 100,000 students in a district so they can provide only crisis management and not proactive approaches,” she says. “At Roots, we can be proactive and we know how to support parents and kids because we know how classrooms are structured and can help children build skills for that environment.”
By knowing both the child and the environment, Roots therapists can bridge any gaps and create a better learning experience for the child.
“Our goal is to know what schools can do so we can create more resources for the family. At the school, the teachers and staff may not have training so we are sometimes hands-on trainers at the school,” Burgard adds. “We share information about setting up behavior plans and taking data, and we help them figure it out.”
Roots has even built a strong relationship with a local school district and provides additional support for children who even, through their IEPs, are bused to Roots for therapy. “One family let this school know who we are and shared that we are awesome, and we really mesh with the school,” Burgard explains. “It’s great for the children.”
Recognizing each child is unique
While federal legislation, through the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides that each child receive a free and appropriate public education, that support is often limited to academics, and not the functional skills that kids need so they’re ready to learn, day in and day out.
Often the skills that make the child most successful aren’t academic, but functional — which is what therapists at Roots specialize in. “We are teaching them skills to be successful in a classroom environment, like participating in circle time, a group activity or discussion, transitioning between activities, cleaning up, following directions, managing multiple sources of stimuli and many other functional skills,” Link says. “It’s really the social behaviors of the child that we are teaching and supporting.”
Together with these social behaviors, children at Roots engage in various preschool experiences, like recognizing colors, letters and animals, and the weather and seasons, Burgard says. “We teach the same things you’d see in preschools, but on top of that, we teach the functional behaviors that, if not learned, can limit children when they get to first, second, third grade,” she says. “If you can’t attend to the teacher, you won’t learn the math lesson.”
Most of all, teachers at Roots recognize that the children they serve are unique. “We aren’t trying to change a child to fit the mold of the classroom, but we embrace the wonderful and unique things so they can be successful and move through life more easily,” Link says.
“It’s a misconception about ABA that we are training them to be something they are not,” she adds. “We always think about a child’s life in first grade, in eighth grade, in high school. We foreshadow how it will be for them and figure out what we need to work on today to make them successful. We embrace each child and help them figure out how to be their most fulfilled selves.”