Montessori and ABA – A Unique Combination
When I was first introduced to the entire Montessori system by my mother, I was in high school and wanted to be an artist. It was three years after that, that I got my first diploma in Montessori Early Childhood Teaching during my college program, and then shortly after, my second diploma from another board in the same discipline.
By then, my plans to pursue fine arts as a career had vanished and I was all prepped to become an educationist. Thought I could pursue education as a field and design curriculums for schools, sounded like a great idea. Little did I know, that I would end up with a degree in Behavioral Sciences with a psychology major after the next four years, during which I was introduced to the wonderful world of Applied Behavior Analysis.
As I started to read more about it and volunteered at a place where it was applied in order to teach life skills to children with Autism, the more I grew fond of it. Not only did I fall in love with ABA, I began to notice certain similarities between the teaching principles of ABA and the strategies introduced by Maria Montessori.
Modules in Montessori Curriculum
In the Montessori curriculum, Early Childhood Education is divided into a certain set of ‘modules’ or areas that are covered as follows:
- Exercises of Practical Life
These include activities of personal care, grooming skills, caring about the environment, daily living skills and exercises of grace and courtesy.
- Exercises of Sensorial Development
These exercises focus on the development of the basic senses such as tactile sense, auditory sense, visual sense, smell, and taste.
- Language & Phonics Exercises
These activities are designed to train the child to progress in phonics, alphabet recognition, phonemes and graphemes moving towards complexed tasks like language and vocabulary building and then reading. Apart from that, it also covers writing insets.
- Handwriting & Grammar
In this, the child is guided how to write using chalkboards and different activities that allow for the development of this complex fine motor skill.
- Mathematical Exercises
Number recognition, formation, decimal system, and linear counting along with other related operations are taught as a part of the mathematics module.
- Geography & History
This module is also referred to as ‘Culture 1’ and introduces the child to the world around them and gives them the chance to experience it by getting information about countries, people, natural phenomena, cultures, and arts.
- Zoology, Botany & Science Experiments
This module is also referred to as ‘Culture 2’ and covers knowledge about plants, animals and related scientific areas along with experimentation.
Montessori Learning Techniques for Developmental Disorders
Skimming through my set of modules again from my diploma years, I noticed how the exercises of practical life such as pouring solids from one pitcher to another or transferring water from one bowl to another using a sponge, actually exercised that could really be taught to a child with Autism and related developmental disorders, using the principles of ABA.
Besides, the main aim of therapy is always to teach the child independent living. Moving on, exercises such as buttoning, unbuttoning, zipping, unzipping, buckle and unbuckle frames are all pretty doable activities in an Autism classroom. Not only does it teach them the skill, but it also targets other related areas in the child, such as fine motor skills and visual perception, along with the development of other senses that is covered in the sensorial module.
Montessori Techniques and ABA
The discrete trial teaching method is the most common strategy to teach used in ABA, and the precise trials of teaching, with short phrases used as instruction or ‘SD’, is something that has been reinforced by Maria Montessori in a very similar manner.
She always emphasized on breaking a task into smaller steps and teaching one thing at a time, maintaining eye contact and being short with the instruction using clear language. It’s like she was using task analysis with children way before ABA even became a thing!
I did my part of the research on this wonderful combination and found out that I was not the only one with this idea in mind. Apparently, the first bright mind to come up with the Montessori-ABA mesh and introduce it to the world was Michelle Lane, founder of The Lane Montessori School for Autism in Toronto, Canada.
Her experience of working with children having special needs and knowing about behavior therapy, combined with a degree in Montessori teaching enabled her to come up with this innovative combination that, according to her, was very workable and tested. In an interview with Montessori for Everyone, Lane states how “Maria Montessori originally worked with children with special needs in the asylums and made great gains with them – so much so that their IQ scores were similar to typical children. She created the Montessori method as a way of teaching a typically developing child”
The question is, can the Montessori method be fully incorporated with a child on the Autism spectrum? The answer is, no. But it can be integrated to a great extent with certain modifications made keeping in mind where on the spectrum the child lies since the spectrum ranges from mild to moderate and severe.
Certain things need to be kept in mind, such as while using a sand tray to teach letter formation to a child on the spectrum, one needs to be sure that the child does not have any sensory issue that restricts him/her from touching the sand. Certain textures or materials used in the conventional Montessori curriculum may not be beneficial to a child with Autism, even if the concept that is being given is very much up to their level. Hence, certain things need to be modified in order for this blend to work with children having differentiated needs, but that does not limit, in any manner, the effectiveness of this combination.
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