Using an ABA School vs. Home ABA for Children with Autism

This is a question I get a lot is which is
better home ABA or school ABA center-based and or should I homeschool? And there’s so many variables, people from
all over the world literally who have different circumstances, different funding streams,
good options, bad options. I don’t care what you call it. So that’s why I decided this morning to write
out some of the variables that can help us decide what the best situation is. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board
Certified Behavior Analyst, online course creator and bestselling author of The Verbal
Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas
about turning autism around so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel you can do
that now. So Anna got me thinking this morning about
home versus school programming and uh, Anna, I don’t know how old her son is now, but um,
he is in an ABA program, uh, approved private school or private ABA program that’s funded
by her district and she’s had involvement with a lawyer and she is trying to make a
decision about a non ABA school versus home program. Um, she’s wondering about using a completely
different approach maybe a good thing but maybe a disaster. And on Friday we have an IEP and the district
told us, uh, that home-based instructions will be implemented if he’s not accepted to
the new school. And um, so she’s just really, it sounds like
leaving him in the current ABA placement is not an issue. It sounds like now she has a potentially a
choice between a non ABA school versus a home and I guessing the age is around 12. Okay. So this morning I started thinking about,
and this is, this is a question I get a lot is which is better home ABA or school ABA
center-based and or should I homeschool? And there’s so many variables, people from
all over the world literally who have different circumstances, different funding streams,
good options, bad options. I don’t care what you call it, whether you’re
calling the center, this school, this program, ABA, non ABA. I don’t care what you call it, I don’t care
if it’s called life skills or autistic support or uh, inclusion. I don’t, it doesn’t matter. Typical preschool. There are certain variables that make it so
complicated for each individual. So that’s why I decided this morning to write
out some of the variables that can help us decide what the best situation is. Home versus center or school. First of all, we have to look at the child’s
age. Um, in most states in the United States, children
birth to 3 are in a serviced in their home or at daycares, wherever they are naturally
going. But then for, for really for funding reasons
that switches 3 to 5, they switch in the United States, the funding stream usually switches
to center-based school programming. Very few places really do quality ABA programming. Um, and then you have in the United States,
all 50 states now mandate insurance carriers to cover ABA. So then we got, you know, home ABA versus
school ABA that’s not through the education system. So that muddies the water too. But we’re not gonna really talk about like
ABA versus non ABA. We’re just going to talk about programming
in general in the home or at a center/school. We’ll kind of put those together. So it, if you think about typically developing
kids, um, and we’re, we’re talking about the whole day, we’re talking about a 6 hour chunk,
we’re not talking about, you know, if we talk about a 6 hour chunk of time, if you think
about the age that the child is at, where would he be if he were typically developing? That’s, that’s is usually where I would start. So under age 5, under the age of kindergarten,
a child would be mostly at home, um, or in daycare and or at home with, with preschool,
3 mornings a week, uh, 3 days a week, you know, very few, like full time, 6 hours a
day, every single day preschools that, um, would be an option if they’re typically developing. So my thought, um, is for kids under 5, that’s
usually home and kids over 5, it’s usually school is where normal neuro typical kids,
uh, would be, would, would be placed. So the other variables, and there’s, there’s
several variables. And then we’re going to talk about, after
we talk about home versus school, we’re going to talk about how to tell if a center or a
school is appropriate. But in addition to the age of the child, we
also have to think about the work status of parents, uh, grandparents and other care providers. Uh, so if a parent works full time, um, and
there, if the child were typical, he’d be at daycare or maybe they have siblings and
the siblings are in daycare or preschool then, or maybe the grandparent watches the kids,
the parents work and the grandparents, watch the kids. So like what options are there? Um, I know a couple of my, um, clients’
moms, their dads worked full time and then their moms also worked, you know, between
the commute and everything, like9 hours a day. And so, um, in one case, uh, the, the child
was being watched, in both cases, the child was being watched by a relative when I first
started. In one of the cases I trained the grandmother,
Jacob’s grandmother, to deliver the therapy and to be the center of the child’s programming. And I also trained mom to do it in the evenings
and everything. And the other situation, the relative that
was watching the child, uh, not that they were a bad person or abusive or anything,
but they just, uh, were not into anything extra that they would have to be delivering. So in that case, mom decided to pull the child
back to her home, stay working 9 hours a day, but hire a nanny to be the center and to,
you know, uh, have the speech therapist come in and have the therapy, behavioral therapists
come in and have me come in to run the program. So I think that’s a really important variable
is, is, is there 1 parent or caregiver in a home situation that has the time, but also
has the interest, um, in learning and being open and being, um, the little boy that was
being watched by a relative, this little boy was banging his head on soft and hard, uh,
things 3 hours out of the 9 hours a day. We didn’t know that, but we did know that
when I started, he had an open lesion on his head that we had to fix. Um, and so when I was, uh, interviewing and
assessing, when was he banging? How hard was he banging and what, you know. Okay. He’s in a high chair. He’s banging on the high chair. Okay. Can we get a shorter chair with a booster
seat? Okay, we can do that. He was banging in the pack and play in the
crib because he was expected to take 2 naps a day and he was banging before he fell asleep,
banging when he woke up. Okay. We need to switch that. We can’t have this child banging his head. Like he can’t have 2 naps. He needs 1 nap. It needs to be short. No banging. As soon as he’s awake, he needs to be picked
up and engaged. Um, so those are, those are 2 big things. Uh, funding is another big, big variable,
but just because something’s funded, like in Kelsey’s situation on podcast number 3,, um, Kelsey had funding to take her son Brentley an hour away driving
him an hour away to a center, an ABA center run by a behavior analyst, but that even though
that was funded, that was not what her child needed. So just because it’s funded, like when Lucas
was supposed to go to the 3 to 5 program, um, that whatever was recommended was not
appropriate. And we’re going to talk about why that wasn’t
appropriate. So I’ll save that. But just because something’s funded doesn’t
mean it’s right for your child. Um, and then there’s other factors. Are there siblings? Um, you know, what’s the functioning level? What are the other diagnoses? I had a client once with autism, he was 2. He also had a severe, uh, diabetes with a
pump. I’ve had kids with severe anaphylactic, uh,
allergies. I’ve had kids with other syndromes that they
need a nurse. Um, these are all factors that could make
center-based programming or something, um not in the cards. I do think that functioning level is something
that I would consider as well. Um, so because if it’s a matter of, I remember
when Lucas, when I was in my second due process case when Lucas was like 9 or 10 years of
age, um, he had transitioned back from a approved private school to our public school and the
teacher went out on her second pregnancy and nobody knew what they were doing. And like I wasn’t gunning for perfection. It was just like a disaster, like all of a
sudden. And of course they didn’t want me to see the
disaster, so they like didn’t let me in the classroom and were rude. And so we ended up, you know, in due process
anyway. But, um, when I was in my due process when
he was about 9 or 10, I remember another behavior analysts that knew me pretty well and was
working with me in the verbal behavior project, said, why you know what to do, why don’t you
just homeschool Lucas? And I was adamant, I was already working as
a behavior analyst. And I was like, no, I do not want to homeschool. I’m already working. I’m already becoming a leader in the field. There’s a lot of kids to help. And I need Lucas to go somewhere for 6 hours
a day so that I can do my life and have my goals and have, um, you know, it’s a lot of
time to have a child home. Now, if, if it was, if it meant Lucas was,
you know, very high functioning and, and this, when he was 10, it would mean the difference
between him going to college or being, you know, very disabled. And, and I knew it was like a shorter term
thing where I could fix it and then I could get him somewhere else. Like I would’ve, I would’ve, uh, probably
considered it, but I knew by age 10 that Lucas had moderate, severe autism, had a mild intellectual
disability. He was not going to progress to college to
be fully conversational, most likely to, you know. So if you’ve taken my intermediate learner
course in module 1, I talk about the three profiles of intermediate learners. And for me, I’m not saying like I gave up
on Lucas or anything, it’s just a factor. If I had a profile A kid who I, if I think
that I could really, you know, under age 8, I would last as hard as possible. Um, especially if you have a child that’s
making pretty good gains. And I did when Lucas was under 8, I blasted
full, full tilt. Um, but when children get older, um, you know,
so, so that, that was kind my experience, it’s that I wanted, I always wanted somewhere
for Lucas to go for 6 hours a day. And it didn’t have to be perfect, but it had
to be, um, it had to be appropriate. So, so those are the factors, age, the work
status of parents and caregivers, the funding streams or whether parents are, you know,
independently wealthy and can do whatever they want, hire nannies, hire round the clock
care, you know, like, um, there are differences between, you know, even hiring a lawyer, which,
you know, um, I went through, many of our, our parents have gone through and then, um,
really thinking about, you know, is, is this going to be pivotal in changing the trajectory
of where my child is going to be? So, um, for Lucas at age 10, is this really,
me homeschooling, is that going to change his trajectory of where he’s going to be at
12 or 18 or 25? And I didn’t think it would. Um, and now he’s 23 and again, he goes to
a center 6 hours a day. And I have friends who don’t have that. Um, for whatever reason, their kid, their
adult kids can’t go to this center based program. And so you end up, I think, in a difficult
situation where, um, you know, your kids at home all day. It’s a lot of hours to fill with meaningful
activities. Okay. So let’s switch gears pretty quickly and then
I’m going to get to the rest of the questions. I know this is kind of long. Um, let’s switch gears to how to tell if a
center or school, um, is appropriate no matter what you call it, whether you call it ABA,
verbal behavior, non ABA, floortime, whatever, a typical school, how do you tell if a school
or a center is appropriate? Those variables that I talk to about home
versus center still absolutely apply the age, the, you know, the age, the funding, all that
stuff. However, when I’m really looking at a school
or a center, I am mostly looking at my big 3. Is the child safe? Um, so let’s talk about safety first. Um, as I say in podcast, uh, 1 with my journey,
um, and I have a whole podcast episode on my legal battles over the years. And I have a, an interview with Gary Mayerson
as one of my podcasts interviews, both, you know, excellent podcasts interviews, um, and
episodes. But when Lucas was, uh, when he turned 3,
that’s right when he get the diagnosis and right when he was ready to go to the 3 to
5 programming, um, the program that was recommended was in the middle of the city. Um, Lucas had just finished a year of 2-year-old
preschool at our, um, you know, neighborhood preschool that was, you know, had an excellent
reputation. Um, so he already had that. He already, um, got the diagnosis of autism. I was developing, I had developed a home program
in my house, in the suburbs and the program that was recommended with the 3 to 5 year
old program was in the middle of the city in a gun zone. So they could not do any outside play ground
time because it was in a gun zone. And then I had a choice to get him to this
center. It was either, um, I would drive him, but
I also had Spencer who was 18 months younger. So I would have take my 18 month old and my
3 year old, essentially nonverbal child drive both of them into this gun zone, middle of
the city, park or I don’t know what I would do. Maybe they would come and get Lucas out of
the car and swiftly move him into the building. Um, and then at the center, uh, that was proposed,
I think it was 15 minutes a week of 1 to 1 time. I mean we were talking about studies showing
kids needed 40 hours a week of 1 to 1 time and this was given to give him 15 minutes
a week in uh, uh, classroom where he couldn’t even go out to recess. And then every 6 weeks because of funding,
they would take like a 2 week break so they didn’t take summers off, but they had this
scattered schedule. Um, so right there it wasn’t a safe situation
or he could stay at my home with this 40 hour week program, which was proven. We had a yard with a fence. He could go outside, he could return to his
typical preschool with it, with 1 of his behavioral therapists, like, which part of this would
even make sense for him to go to this other option. So safety’s huge in Kelsey situation podcast
3, she was driving him, he was banging his head on hard surfaces a hundred times a day. He was eloping from the center, running out
of the door 3 blocks away when Kelsey was trying to drop him off. Um, it’s just not safe. So if it’s a safety issue, um, then it’s,
it’s, it’s not appropriate. Um, in addition to the center or school having
safety and, and it doesn’t, you know, you might have to put things in the IEP to make
it safe for your child, a 1-to-1, a 1-to-1 during recess time, which with the 1-to-1
being within arms distance of your child the entire time because there’s no fence, um,
you may need, you know, whatever you need, but you have to make sure that the center
or the school has enough, uh, safety considerations to make your child safe. Um, you also want to make sure that the time
during the school day is, is appropriate. They’re going to be working on skills that
your child needs, not skills he already has, not skills that are too hard, uh, skills that
are functional. And this is again depending on the age and
the ability level. And I think as your child gets to be 10 or
12 or 14, we have to be thinking no matter what the functioning level is, where are they
headed? What will, what skills are really going to
be appropriate? I remember one, we had au pairs, which is
how we kept Lucas safe and uh, I got to work and earn a PhD and travel, um, was we hired
au pairs for a good 10 years of our, of Lucas and Spencer’s lives. And um, I remember one of our au pairs coming
back after not seeing us for 3 or 4 years. And Lucas was probably 8 when she was here
and 12 when she came back. And, and she said like his independent skills
with like chores and showering and all that stuff just really improved. She didn’t see a ton of gains with language. And it wasn’t because we weren’t trying and
we weren’t working on that. It’s just, um, and like the other last week,
Lucas answered his first why question spontaneously. We were walking, um, in a parking lot, uh,
at a restaurant after we ate. And I had been trying, I work with him a little
bit on why questions like, why is the pool closed? And he knows to say because, but he has. And so I go, oh, oh, be careful. It’s slippery. It had snowed a little bit. I said, be careful. It’s slippery. And I go, why is it slippery? And he’s like, because it snows and you know,
because he could see the snow, but it still was his first spontaneous answering why questions. I don’t want you to think like, I’m not working
on language. We teach him new people that he comes in contact
with new tests at work and all that stuff. But, um, I, I think at this point, you know,
his language, he’s not fully conversational. I think it would. Um, but we can work more and more on independence. Keeping him safe, working on independence
with everything and working on keeping him happy. So that’s the other thing is, is is your child
happy to go to a center or a school or do you think they’d be happy? If it’s just a possible, uh, possible. Um, what kind of things do they know? Do they know about pairing? Do they know about the power of manding or
requesting? Is it set up so that the kids look happy? Like if I were picking a daycare just for
a typically developing kid and I went in, um, to daycare A, and this teacher was like,
Johnny stopp that. All right, the jump rope is going away because
you guys can’t share and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If, if that was the, you know, stop, keep
your hands to yourself. I told you, you know, sit criss cross applesauce
like nobody’s listening today or, and then I went into daycare B and it was like, I like
the way you’re shearing. That’s so awesome. You know, give me a high five. If it was like all these 8 positives to every
negative, I don’t care what you call it, I would pick the positive environment. So when you’re assessing potential, uh, places
for your child to be, whether that’s a, a center or a school or a classroom, um, look
for people that are positive. Look for people that, um, know enough to,
uh, talk to you about how they program for happiness, how they keep the child safe, and
what kind of skills they work on and see if they are in line with what you think your
child needs. Wherever you’re watching this, I’d love it
if you would leave me a comment, give me a thumbs up, share this video with others who
may benefit. And for more information, you can attend a
free online workshop at and I’ll see you right here next week.

4 thoughts on “Using an ABA School vs. Home ABA for Children with Autism

  1. Mu son did center Base ABA from age 3 to age 5 which is a cut off age for center Base and he went to special Ed preschool in the public schools and he now in AA public autism school and he love school Base autism school he get all the support there like speech and ot and the school age go up to age 21 my son has been slowly getting better with speach where my son go to school they offer homebound for Early childhood program 1 hour 4 day's a week my son will be leaving the early childhood program building for 2nd grade to Elmer knof school for children with autism

  2. My son is two years and two months old just diagnosed has moderate autism little to no communication. We are being offered 2-3 hours in home Aba five days a week or 5-6 hours center based ABA. I am having the hardest time deciding which will be best for him he still does nap and I have a younger son who’s 8 months old. I want to do want is bed for him I don’t want him to be overwhelmed in the center I feel maybe starting at home and moving to the center based when he is closer to 3.

    What would your advice be should I do the one that gets him more hours we are also doing an hour of speech and OT

  3. I would love ot watch your videos from the beginning. Are they numbered by age or date .how does it work.

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