Therapy Battle: One school vs. one child with autism

Therapy Battle: One school vs. one child with autism
Fox Sayers, 3, can now say 'I love you' to his parents. They credit ABA therapy. (Source: WECT)
The Sayers family is working to try to get the district to allow Fox's ABA therapist to attend school with him. (Source: WECT)
The Sayers family is working to try to get the district to allow Fox's ABA therapist to attend school with him. (Source: WECT)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Parents want their children to have the best life possible and will go to great lengths to make sure every opportunity is available to make that happen.

Fox Sayers, 3, has Autism Spectrum Disorder. His parents say they have seen miraculous improvements in his speech and behavior since they started Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy with him.

Fox recently started speaking in full sentences, something he couldn't do months ago.

"He just started saying I love you for the first time," his mom, Eden Sayers, said.

"You can't imagine how it feels when…you have periods when you wonder if your kid will ever be able to communicate in sentences," his dad, Foster Sayers, added. "Then, he starts doing it and it's miraculous."

Eden said Fox can now ask for items, like food, drinks and toys.

Fox has been undergoing ABA therapy for a few months. ABA therapy essentially rewards good behavior and ignores bad behavior, explained Kristin Yonkers, a therapy provider from Butterfly Effects who helps to work with Fox.

"Rather than providing the toys whenever they hit or engage in aggression, we are requiring them to communicate," Yonkers said. "The child is going to learn that hitting, spitting doesn't work."

Yonkers said the treatment works well with children who have autism by encouraging them to communicate.

In fact, the therapy has been found to be so beneficial, in July, a new state law went into effect which requires insurers to cover ABA for those who are autistic.

Fox's parents requested that his ABA technician be allowed to attend class with him at the Child Development Center in New Hanover County, but the district won't allow it.

Foster and Eden can't understand why the school system won't allow Fox to continue his therapy at school, saying they would sign any necessary liability waiver.

Emails the Sayers family shared with us show the district's denial of the request.  
When Foster asked them to point to a specific policy as the reason, District Attorney Wayne Bullard responded by writing, "I am not aware of a written rule. It is the practice of this School System." 

That’s why the Sayers family reached out to us. They’re frustrated and hope to compel school leaders to allow it.

"If you start at 3, 4, and 5, you have a 40 percent chance of mainstreaming your child into a normal education system," Foster said. "That's why when the school says we won't allow you to do it, we can't be expected not to use such an impactful therapy for our son."

We've been waiting for weeks for a response from New Hanover County Schools on this issue.

This afternoon, the district sent a detailed explanation for the reasons they are not allowing the ABA therapist into the classroom.

In the written statement, one of the reasons given is that it "creates a risk that the student's academic success will be compromised. That is because of the possibility of conflicting or incongruent methodologies being used by the therapist and the child's certified special education teacher."

The district also pointed to privacy concerns for other students and safety concerns, given that the therapist has not passed employment screening, a criminal background check or sex offender registry check.

"Parents are free to send their children to private tutors or therapists after school hours, if they wish," the statement concluded.

We forwarded the school's statement along to Foster Sayers.

He responded by writing, "all of the legal issues raised could be addressed through contractual agreements and logistical planning. As for concerns over setting a precedent nothing is preventing the school from avoiding that by creating a narrowly defined policy that is focused on autism spectrum disorder and ABA therapy. Moreover, they have not offered anything that would demonstrate their methodology offered is comparable to ABA therapy and they provide no reason for not offering it."

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