ASAN Praises ED Letter Urging Schools to Look Beyond ABA

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The Autistic Self Advocacy Network applauds the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for their July 6th Dear Colleague letter to states expressing concern that schools may be inappropriately limiting services offered to autistic children to those offered by Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapists.

“Some IDEA programs may be including applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapists exclusively without including, or considering input from, speech language pathologists and other professionals who provide different types of specific therapies that may be appropriate,” states the letter from OSEP Director Melody Musgrove. “We recognize that ABA therapy is just one methodology used ot address the needs of children with ASD and remind States and local programs to ensure that decisions regarding services are made based on the unique needs of each individual child with a disability (and the child’s family in the case of Part C of the IDEA).”

This letter represents an important acknowledgement from federal education policymakers that, within autism service conversations, Board Certified Behavior Analysts are too often privileged above other more evidence-based providers, such as occupational therapists and speech pathologists. Coupled with similar past guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on this topic, a growing consensus is emerging that ABA should not be viewed as the only or primary option for serving children on the autism spectrum.

This shift is critically important. For too long, ABA has been inappropriately presented as the gold-standard option for families seeking services for autistic relatives. Despite this, research suggests that the evidence base for ABA is relatively weak. Furthermore, ongoing concerns from self-advocates and families regarding unethical practices by ABA providers have yet to be adequately addressed by the field. Within this context, is imperative that Medicaid agencies, State and Local Education Authorities and other policy-making bodies responsible for service-provision to autistic children and adults make available a broad array of service options, including promising and evidence-based developmental approaches.

In light of this, ASAN released a new guide this month for families seeking Medicaid coverage of autism behavioral health services beyond ABA. This resource is the first in a series of resources which will present information for autistic people, families and advocates seeking to broaden service-options available to the autistic community. We stand ready to work with our local partners to advance an inclusive vision of autism services across the country.

July 6th Letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs:


September 2014 FAQ on Autism Services from the Center on Medicare and Medicaid Services: