For individuals with autism and related intellectual and developmental disabilities, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) provides evidence-based tools to navigate their education, engage with their peers, and learn critical life skills. Unlike other behavioral health services, such as substance abuse treatment or mental health counseling, autism and intellectual and developmental disability (IDD) care provides a unique opportunity for our healthcare system and our education system to function together. Through my experience working as a BCBA-D, I have seen firsthand the significant challenges — and immense opportunities — that can occur when these two systems work together.

When there is synergy between the two, individuals with autism (who I will refer to as ‘learners’ throughout this piece) and their caregivers can build a foundation of trust and shared understanding with both their clinicians and educators. Given that learners may be receiving services from board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) within their school system and privately in the center or home-based services, the coordination of goals and intervention can be disjointed from the clinic to the classroom. By equipping our BCBAs and special educators with streamlined data collection and IEP management tools, we can create collaboration between these systems and promote progress for learners across learning environments.

Understanding autism and IDD care

A diagnosis for autism and related IDDs is medical, and educators are tasked with the job of translating this diagnosis into a specific Individualized Education Program (IEP) to support a learner’s unique needs. ABA therapy can be delivered in two ways: either by a school-based BCBA or by a private clinician. In either scenario, ABA therapy often requires intensive data collection to drive data-based interventions or individualized academic instruction and behavioral supports. As such, tracking data on skill acquisition and behavior reduction for these learners is critical to understanding and improving their progress toward mastering IEP goals.

Encouraging collaboration with policy and technology

Managing multiple data collection and IEP management systems can lead to double data entry, manual data graphing processes, potential human error, and ultimately more time spent on the paperwork that could be better spent teaching and building rapport with students. Streamlining special education and ABA-based classrooms with comprehensive systems greatly reduces administrative time and errors, allowing teachers to do more of what matters—providing high-quality instruction.

When teachers, therapists, support staff, and special educators leverage technology for data collection, communication, and reporting, collaboration on learner progress is less challenging and less time-consuming. Streamlined systems that both school and clinical teams adopt can lessen the knowledge gap between institutions and increase the likelihood of success for learners in the classroom and beyond.

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