In-school ABA autism therapy support at KCBE; May 19 is key

Final of a two-part series

KNOXVILLE — With three Knox County Board of Education representatives voicing support and none directly expressing opposition to inviting Applied Behavior Analysts into Knox County Schools to offer what advocates say is vital classroom assistance to students with autism, an important meeting is set to examine the issue Friday, May 19.

Though not currently allowed by Knox County Schools, “When we start putting medical decisions into educational policy, I think we’re in a place we shouldn’t be,” said Jennifer Owen, 2nd District rep, in support of in-school ABA, during a non-voting workshop meeting Monday, May 1.

ABA therapy in KCS “should have happened a long time ago,” she added.

Owen said ABA is a “prescription from their doctor, just like if they were taking a medication,” adding the Board “is not qualified to question a medical diagnosis. ... We should be deferring to the physician of that student.”

While saying disruptive behavior, such as a child of need who “runs out the door every day ... is disruptive to absolutely everything in the whole school,” Owen said the child’s ABA therapist can help prevent this.

Katherine Bike, 4th District rep, reiterated that the much-needed ABA therapy causes these students of need “to miss a lot of school” without being allowed during school hours.

Moreover, Bike said she is “a member of the autism community ... I have some experience with my son.”

“As a parent with a son with Sensory Processing Disorder I understand he needs some things other children in his educational setting don’t need,” said Daniel Watson, 3rd District rep.

The task is “how to we create a policy that allows for the appropriate access to individual medical and therapeutic interventions for individual children?” Watson said.

Such in-school therapies “are going to have a lifelong impact on these children,” he added.

“I am not opposed to ABA therapy at all,” said Kristi Kristy, 9th District rep and Board chair, but added this issue “needs to go to policy review” before taking action. “... I would like to see a policy that is more comprehensive.”

Susan Horn, 5th District (Farragut) rep, said the Board needs to look “more broadly because there will be other things. ... So that we have an answer for this and other like issues that will come up.”