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High school in line for autism program

June 14, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — Last week, while the superintendent search was growing more tense, the School Committee showed it could still do things unanimously by approving the creation of a life skills program for autistic students at the high school.

The proposal came from Special Education Director Michael Meyer, who said while its price tag looks large — $126,700 for what's likely to be just four students next year to start — that's notably lower than what Southbridge would have to pay to serve the same students out of district ($169,601). He said it requires hiring a Special Education teacher, tutor and at least one paraprofessional; ads for the jobs were in last weekend's newspapers.

Last Tuesday, Meyer said the system currently has two high school students who would be brought back to Southbridge, two going up to the high school from Wells, and one or two he hopes to bring back from out of town placements.

The program will essentially be an expansion of one that already exists at Wells within the PASS program, which behavior analyst Karen Alitz-Polga said is based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA). She described that as "pretty much the only evidence-based methodology out there for kids with autism."

According to www.centerforautism.com, ABA "focuses on the reliable measurement and objective evaluation of observable behavior" by avoiding subjective terms such as "anger" and documenting specific acts the teachers want their students to learn to do or stop doing, tracking the warning signs of negative acts, and "mastering the subcomponents of the targeted skills," among other techniques. Depending on a student's level of functioning, the program may focus on a wide array of skills from traditional academics or social interaction to even very basic self-care skills. The site notes the practice has been evolving and studied for at least 30 years.

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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