Abuse and Behaviorism
These disability organizations are not advocating the use of PBS as a treatment for autism. Rather, they are suggesting that school-wide and district-wide programs, which are called PBIS (this stands for Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) and are intended to apply equally to all students, can improve the overall disciplinary environment and thereby help to prevent abuse and bullying of students with disabilities.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network has been considering whether, and to what extent, it should support anti-abuse initiatives that promote the use of PBIS programs. Because the behavioral assessment methods used in PBS/PBIS have their roots in ABA, which has a long and sordid history of shoddy research and unethical practices when used as a treatment for autism (as thoroughly documented by Michelle Dawson on her website and blog), some members of the autistic community have questioned whether ASAN should support such initiatives.
The disability organizations that favor the use of PBIS are not relying on the ABA/autism research literature to support their position, however, but on data showing reduced disciplinary incidents among the entire student body in schools and districts that have adopted PBIS programs. Whether or not ABA should be used as a treatment for autism is irrelevant to an analysis of the use of PBIS for general disciplinary purposes. Moreover, many school districts do not even employ psychologists to run these programs, but instead arrange for district personnel to receive training from PBIS consultants. A school district that has a PBIS discipline program is using that program for purposes unrelated to autism and, in most cases, is not employing anyone who has ever used ABA as a treatment for autism.
Of course, in evaluating the effects of PBIS programs on students with disabilities, there are other factors that should be considered in addition to disciplinary incident data. It would be helpful to interview autistic students and their families regarding their experiences with such programs, taking into account a broad variety of quality of life issues. Also, as Ed discussed in a recent post, behavioral programs in the schools should "be critically scrutinized in order to see that their direction is productive and encourages more creativity rather than fewer freedoms."