July 18, 2006

Legislation strengthens special education programs

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Newly passed legislation allowing the state to pay board-certified behavior analysts who work with schoolchildren in special education programs is a great first step, said a Southern Illinois University Carbondale expert internationally known in the field.

"The question now is where do we go from here," said Anthony J. Cuvo, who also directs the University's Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, part of the College of Education and Human Services' Rehabilitation Institute.

Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich recently signed the measure into law. In school settings, behavior analysts work with children, parents and teachers to reduce unwanted behavior and to build or improve learning and social skills. Board certification, which is voluntary, means that the behavior analysts have completed specific graduate-level courses, have a certain level of experience, have passed an examination and continue to learn about the field by taking additional classes after certification.

"It helps ensure the quality of people providing behavior analysis," Cuvo said. "People can call themselves behavior analysts, but only those with the credentials can say they're board certified."

Because behavior analysts can help children with a wide range of behavior-related problems — hyperactive children, defiant children, children with short attention spans, autistic children, to name a few — Cuvo hopes to get funding for two more steps.

"We need to disseminate to the schools what behavior analysis is all about," he said.

"We also would like to come up with a plan to populate the state with board-certified behavior analysts."

As one of only 12 universities in the country with a graduate program accredited by the international Association for Behavior Analysis, SIUC could play a huge role here, not only in training future analysts but in helping those now in the field become board certified.

"We could provide the field work experience and supervision to people who have met the coursework requirements but need the direct experience, and we could do this in several ways," he said.

"Some people could come here (to campus) and work in our program. It would be analogous to someone going away for an internship. We could also place people in some of the special education programs in Southern Illinois where we would provide the supervision. Another thing we could do is to provide supervision in remote locations (through distance learning technology); the certification board specifies how that could be done. And we could do workshops throughout the state."

While that extra training would entail some costs, Cuvo thinks ultimately all taxpayers — not just the parents of special needs children — would get more bang for their bucks.

"We train people here, but they leave Illinois because of a lack of jobs," he said.

"We use state tax money to provide this program, but the state doesn't get the benefit when those people leave."

On down the road, Cuvo would like to see services expand to include more than schoolchildren. A committee that advises the state's Division of Developmental Disabilities is working on a plan that would create and fund a means for providing a wide range of services to all people with disabilities. Cuvo would like to see board-certified behavior analysts added to the list of professional helpers eligible for state reimbursement.

"That would basically open everything up," Cuvo said. "It wouldn't be limited by age or setting. In one fell swoop, we could offer services to people of all ages while keeping them in their homes and communities instead of more restricted environments."

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.