Unit Four Assignment – Signature Assignment
Students will research one of the following court cases: (1) Wyatt vs Stickney, (2) ABA and Medicaid reimbursement case in Florida at the following url;
- https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/legal/wyatt-stickney-right-treatment.html or Google W6yatt vs. Stickney for other resources
- or a (3) litigation summary of ABA and discrete trials
- THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004/PP. 95–103 THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004/PP. 95–103 – Alternative Formats – PDF (82.2 KB)
A brief review (3-5 pages in APA style) to include: The facts and major issues in the case, and any supporting research literature relevant to the case A description of the fundamental ABA/treatment principles/issues inherent in the case/litigation How the case was resolved and its implications for the field of ABA specifically and education/treatment in general
Click on the “Unit Four Assignment – Signature Assignment” link above to submit your assignment, as well as to get more information regarding the due date and grading rubric.
THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004/PP. 95–103 95
It is indisputable that the identification of autism is signifi-
cantly on the rise. Concomitantly, there has been a steady and
steep increase in autism litigation (Zirkel, 2001). The most
controversial segment of this litigation, which focuses on the
appropriateness of applied behavior analysis (ABA) programs,
has been subjected to insufficient systematic study.
The purpose of this study is to analyze the pertinent case
law related to the two central issues of contention between
parents and school districts—program selection (i.e., the
choice between competing instructional approaches) and im-
plementation of said program (e.g., its location, duration, or
frequency)—in terms of winning parties (i.e., district or par-
ent) and in terms of identifying the factors noted in the cases
related to the outcome. This review of the literature addresses
the current definitions of autism, ABA and its primary com-
peting instructional approach, and the previous research on
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders–Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric As-
sociation, 1994) defines autism under the umbrella category of
Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), while medical pro-
fessionals refer to both PDD and autism as autistic spectrum
disorder (ASD; Filapek et al., 1999). Regardless of the nomen-
clature used, ASD and PDD refer to the same continuum of
behaviors with a cluster of unusual characteristics: lack of so-
cial responsiveness, delays in speech or inadequate quality of
speech, restricted or stereotypic interests, delays or abnormal-
ities in social interaction, and lack of symbolic play (DSM-IV).
On the other hand, the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA) regulations (1999) define autism as follows:
The “Discrete Trials” of Applied Behavior Analysis
for Children with Autism:
Outcome-Related Factors in the Case Law
Claire Maher Choutka, Patricia T. Doloughty, and Perry A. Zirkel, Lehigh University
This study provides an analysis of case law concerning applied behavior analysis (ABA) for students
with autism to determine outcome-related factors. The authors classified the 68 pertinent hearing/
review officer and court decisions published in EHLR (Education for Handicapped Law Report) and
IDELR (Individuals with Disabilities Education Law Report) into 2 groups representing the central is-
sues of contention between parents and districts—program selection (e.g., instructional approach) and
program implementation (e.g., its location, duration, or frequency). For both groups, the outcomes, in
terms of who won, did not favor either parents or districts. The three factors predominantly associated
with wins by either party for both groups of decisions were testimony of witnesses, documentation of
progress, and Individualized Education Program elements.
A developmental disability significantly affecting
verbal and nonverbal communication and social in-
teraction, generally evident before age three, that
adversely affects a child’s educational performance.
Other characteristics often associated with autism
are engagement in repetitive activities and stereo-
typed movements, resistance to environmental
change, or change in daily routines, and unusual re-
sponses to sensory experiences.
The spectrum of autism and its unknown etiology (Na-
tional Research Council, 2001) contribute to controversy,
rather than consensus, in regards to selection of the appro-
priate instructional approach. Professionals and parents agree
that early intervention is vital (McGee, Morrier, & Daly, 1999),
but the specific nature of the intervention is disputed. Al-
though treatment programs for children with autism have
shown positive results (e.g., Koegel, Koegel, Harrower, & Car-
ter, 1999; Koegel, Koegel, Shoshan, & McNerney, 1999; Lo-
vaas, 1987; McGee et al., 1999), methodological problems
with some of the peer-reviewed, published studies haunt par-
ents, educators, and the legal community.
The two most contested instructional approaches for
children with autism are ABA and TEACCH (Treatment and
Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Chil-
dren; Gryzwacz & Lombardo, 1999). They share some basic
components, such as predictable routines, supportive teaching
arrangements, planned transitions, and family involvement.
However, these approaches also have basic distinguishing
characteristics and limited research.
Address: Claire Maher Choutka, 61 Eileen Lane, Limerick, PA 19468
96 THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004
ABA is the study of behavior and the manipulation of
contingencies and setting events to increase or decrease specific
behaviors. Behavior analysts use objective measures of the de-
sired behaviors and monitor the results of instruction to en-
sure skill acquisition. One small subset of this methodology
is discrete trial therapy (DTT). A further modification of DTT
is Lovaas therapy, after its namesake, Professor O. Ivar Lo-
vaas, of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
The “discrete trial” in DTT refers to the basic teaching unit
delivered in one-to-one instruction. Although DTT and ABA
are synonymous for most parents and school officials, discrete
trial is but one aspect of ABA. Typically, parents request DTT
for 40 hours a week, arriving at an Individualized Education
Program (IEP) meeting armed with Lovaas’s original research
study citing a 47% recovery rate (Lovaas, 1987) and the book
Let Me Hear Your Voice (Maurice, 1993). The author of this
book, a mother of two children diagnosed with autism, pro-
vides a moving account of the recovery of her children from
the wordless, noncommunicative world of autism through the
use of intensive intervention, based on the pioneering work of
Lovaas and provided by the author and some very talented grad-
uate students. This programming is usually delivered in the
home and requires a massive time commitment from families
(Choutka, 1999). With this type of instruction, the outcomes of
seemingly small increments of learning are quantified and
measured to ensure progress in many preacademic skill areas
(Anderson & Romanczyk, 1999).
In contrast to the one-to-one instruction characterizing
ABA, TEACCH is a classroom-based model developed at the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 1970s. It
stresses structured teaching, independent work time, and voca-
tional skills. TEACCH also offers parent training to foster im-
provement of parent skills in dealing with problem behaviors
(Dawson & Osterling, 1997), highly predictable situations to
promote appropriate behavior, and environmental structuring
to facilitate independent functioning (Schopler & Reichler,
1971). The program principles include teaching skills and ac-
cepting deficits in children and parents. Unlike DTT, TEACCH
does not offer a research-based recovery-rate percentage
(Schopler, Mesibov, & Baker, 1982) and thus is less attractive
to parents as an instructional program for their children.
In light of the increased incidence of autism (National
Research Council, 2001), the rising tide of litigation (Zirkel,
2001), and the dearth of conclusive research on instructional
approach effectiveness (Gresham, Beebe-Frankenberger, &
MacMillan, 1999), the present study offers a timely exami-
nation of the factors associated with the outcomes of the
published hearing/review and court decisions concerning in-
structional approaches for students with autism. These case
outcomes have significant implications for students, parents,
and schools, yet there is even less research concerning such
litigation than there is research on instructional approaches
for students with autism.
The previous research concerning autism litigation is
limited to three published sources. First, Heflin and Simpson
(1998) discussed four issues—instructional approach, support
services, placement decisions, and service length—and cited
16 published cases as examples. Their recommendations in-
cluded that districts provide evidence of the efficacy of the
selected instructional approach, but they did not provide spe-
cific, systematic case law support for their recommendations.
Their case coverage was far from comprehensive, lacking var-
ious pertinent published hearing/review officer decisions (e.g.,
Cobb County Sch. Sys., 1996) and court decisions (e.g., Union
Sch. Dist. v. Smith, 1994).
Similarly, Gryzwacz and Lombardo (1999) did not an-
alyze either the outcomes, in terms of which party won, or the
factors associated with winning, but provided an overview of
the debate concerning educational approaches appropriate for
serving children with autism. They included a brief discus-
sion of a limited sampling of approximately 10 pertinent cases.
Their overall conclusion was that the courts generally defer
to the “educational methodology” (Gryzwacz & Lomardo,
1999, p. 5), or instructional approach, selected by the school
district unless it is blatantly inappropriate. Although Gryz-
wacz and Lombardo provided the full text of 14 published
hearing/review officer and court decisions concerning the use
of Lovaas/ABA and other methodologies for children with
ASD, they did not provide a systematic or complete analysis
of these or other pertinent cases (e.g., T.H. v. Board of Educ.
of Palatine Community Consol. Sch. Dist. 15, 1998; Dong v.
Board of Educ. of Rochester Community Sch., 1998).
Coming closest to an empirical analysis of the pertinent
case law,Yell and Drasgow (2000) analyzed 45 published cases
tried between 1993 and 1998. They examined how the case
law defined appropriate in terms of education for children with
autism. However, as pointed out in Zirkel (2001), they omitted
various relevant cases altogether (e.g., Capistrano Unified Sch.
Dist., 1995; Dong v. Board of Educ. of Rochester Community
Sch., 1998; Fairfax County Pub. Sch., 1995) and, in some in-
stances (e.g., Burilovich v. Board of Educ. of Lincoln Consol.
Sch. Dist., 1998; T.H. v. Board of Educ. of Palatine Community
Consol. Sch. Dist., 1998), failed to provide the superceding pub-
lished decision within the limited time period of their study.
Moreover, Yell and Drasgow used a simplistic, dichotomous
categorization of outcomes without defining the meaning of
the terms won and lost. More specifically, it is not clear how
they categorized published decisions that were either incon-
clusive, such as when a court denied the motion for dismissal
and thus preserved the matter for trial, or mixed, such as when
the hearing officer or judge decided one issue in the parents’
favor and another in the favor of the district. Further, they
found parents to be the “prevailing party” (p. 208) in 76% of
the cases without recognizing the specific legal meaning of
that term (e.g., G. v. Fort Bragg Dependent Sch., 2001).
This study expands the scope of the previous studies via
an empirical analysis of a comprehensive sample of pertinent
hearing/review officer and court decisions. More specifically,
the sample for this study consists of all the ABA/DTT/Lovaas
cases published in the Education for Handicapped Law Re-
port (EHLR) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Law
Report (IDELR) through the end of Volume 34, divided into
two groups—program selection and program implementation.
The purposes of the study are (a) to determine the overall
outcome of the two subsamples, both those cases focused on
program selection and those cases focused on program im-
plementation, and (b) to identify the outcome-related factors
in both groups of cases.
As listed in the Appendix, we identified 68 hearing/review of-
ficer and court decisions that (a) were published in IDELR
and EHLR through the end of Volume 34, which was in ap-
proximately August 2001; (b) identified the child as having
any of the autism spectrum disorders, including PDD, autis-
tic disorder, Rett syndrome, and Asperger syndrome (Mauk,
Reber, & Batshaw, 1997); and (c) referenced ABA, DTT, or
Lovaas instructional approaches. Regarding the third criterion,
TEACCH was not necessary as a separate selection factor, be-
cause the only case in which TEACCH was at issue in the ab-
sence of ABA DTT, or Lovaas limited its focus to teacher
training (Sioux Falls School District v. Koupal, 1994). For the
final criterion, in the rare instance where the reference to ABA,
DTT, or Lovaas was indirect, we included the case where the
connection was reasonably understood. For example, we in-
cluded Calaveras Unified Sch. Dist. (1994), which mentioned
the UCLA clinic, even though it did not mention Lovaas per
se. Finally, as in the Zirkel (2001) study, the analysis included
only the highest published decision in each case, thus avoid-
ing double counting; however, for the sake of comprehensive
clarity, the Appendix also lists, in brackets, any published
prior decisions for the same case.
First, we classified the cases into two broad categories—
program selection and program implementation. The cases
concerning program selection were those in which the parents
sought an instructional approach (e.g., Lovaas) other than that
proposed by the district (e.g., TEACCH). In contrast, the cases
concerning program implementation were those in which the
parties agreed on the instructional approach of ABA/DTT/
Lovaas but the parent contested the location (e.g., home vs.
school setting), duration (e.g., number of hours of instruction),
or provider (e.g., particular individual or specific qualifications).
Second, we calculated the overall outcome of each case.
As adapted from Lupini and Zirkel (2003), and as specified in
Table 1, we used a nondirectional scale of 1 to 7 (1 = complete
win for the parents, 7 = complete win for the school authori-
ties; Lupini & Zirkel, 2003). This Likert-type scale reflects
the multiple issues and varying dispositions, for example, the
denial of a motion for summary judgment, thus improving the
validity of previous research (e.g., Yell & Drasgow, 2000).
Third, through reviewing the published opinion of each
case, in particular the Discussion or Legal Conclusions sec-
tions, we were able to glean factors that were expressly related
to the decision, or outcome. For example, we grouped these
factors into the two prongs that the Supreme Court used to de-
fine appropriateness in the landmark decision of Board of Ed-
ucation of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v.
Rowley (1982; hereafter called Rowley). More specifically, the
Court required the IEP to (a) be developed in accordance with
the procedural dictates of the IDEA and (b) be calculated to
yield educational benefit.
As outlined in Table 2, the identified factors fit into two
categories, each with two subcategories. The first category is
compliance with IDEA requirements, which consists of (a) IEP
elements (e.g., present educational level, measurable annual
goals) and (b) other procedural requirements (e.g., timelines,
notices). The second category is evidence of educational ben-
efit, which consists of the two leading sources of evidence of
substantive compliance: (a) documentation of educational prog-
ress (e.g., progress charts, data sheets) and (b) effectiveness of
witnesses. Some of the cases contained, and thus were coded
for, more than one outcome-related factor.
For a factor to be recognized in Table 2, we established
a minimum frequency criterion of 20%; specifically, the fac-
tor must have appeared across groups or categories in at least
14 of the 68 cases. Based on this criterion, two other factors
were eliminated in light of their relative infrequency. First,
contention between parents and districts regarding the exper-
tise of program implementers appeared in only seven cases.
Second, “deference,” which refers to a court giving the benefit
of the doubt to a lower level of decision-making (Newcomer
& Zirkel, 1999), appeared in only eight cases, likely because
only one third (23) of the 68 cases were court decisions, as
compared to hearing/review officer decisions.
For the purpose of interrater reliability, the first two au-
thors independently coded a random sample of 23 of the 68
cases. After receiving training from the third author, they ob-
tained an agreement level of 97% for case category (i.e., pro-
gram selection or program implementation), 94% for outcome
(i.e., 1–7 scale), and 94% for factor identification (e.g., tes-
timony of witnesses). Finally, the first two authors reread,
reviewed, and discussed the disputed cases, to reach 100%
agreement on all areas of coding.
Of the 68 cases in the sample, 43 (63%) focused on program
selection, that is, where the parent sought an instructional
method other than the one proposed by the district. The aver-
age outcome of these cases, based on the outcome scale of 1
(parents) to 7 (district), with a 4.0 as the neutral midpoint, was
3.9. Contributing to the slight skew in the parents’ favor, 20
of the decisions at the polar positions of predominantly or
completely conclusive decisions were in favor of parents (i.e.,
outcome codes 1 or 2), whereas 18 of the conclusive decisions
were in favor of districts (i.e., outcome codes of 6 or 7). The
remaining five cases had outcomes of 3, 4, or 5 (i.e., incon-
THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004 97
98 THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004
clusive or split decisions), meaning they were not decidedly in
favor of either the parent or the district (i.e., Adams v. State of
Oregon, 1999; Asbury v. Missouri Dep’t of Elementary and
Secondary Educ., 1999; CM v. Board of Educ. of Henderson
County [consolidated case with M.E.], 2001; De Mora v. De-
partment of Pub. Welfare, 2001; and Malkentzos v. DeBuono,
1996), and were thus not reported in the results.
For cases regarding program selection, Table 3 summa-
rizes the outcome-related factors relative to the conclusive
outcomes in favor of parents and districts. The most frequent
outcome-related factors were, in order, testimony of witnesses
(n = 30), documentation of educational benefit (n = 28), and
IEP elements (n = 25). For the parent-won cases of program
selection, the most frequent factors were documentation of
educational benefit (n = 20), testimony of witnesses (n = 16),
and IEP elements (n = 14). Similarly, for the district-won cases
of program selection, the most frequent factors were testimony
of witnesses (n = 14), IEP elements (n = 11), and documenta-
tion of progress as substantive evidence of the educational
benefit of the district’s program (n = 8).
The remaining 25 (37%) cases focused on program im-
plementation; that is, the parents did not dispute the instruc-
tional approach but contested the proposed location, duration,
or provider. The average outcome of these cases, based on
the previously mentioned 7-point scale, was 4.0. Establishing
an overall tie position, 13 were at the polar positions of pre-
TABLE 1. Outcome Code Descriptions
Outcome code Description
1—Parent complete win This category consists of summary judgments in favor of the parent (i.e., decisions without
a trial), as well as other conclusive wins on all major issues of the case in favor of the par-
ent, including summary judgments.
2—Decision largely, but not completely, This category represents conclusive decisions in the parent’s favor for the majority of the
for the parent issues or the awarding of relief (e.g., compensatory education, tuition reimbursement) of
more than 50% and less than 100% of what the parent originally sought. In the rare instance
when these two criteria are conflicted, relief criteria are the controlling factor. Further, in
review officer and court decisions where the published opinion does not specify the amount
of relief sought by the parent, the frame of reference was the amount of relief awarded by
the preceding level.
3—Inconclusive decision favoring parent This category includes the granting of a preliminary injunction (an interim decision after a
short proceeding as well as the reversal of a dismissal of a case by a lower court), which
means that the case will return to the lower court for a trial. Additionally, this category in-
cludes the denial of a summary judgment motion sought by school authorities (because this
preliminary ruling will result in a trial to determine the ultimate, conclusive winner).
4—Split decision This category includes the awarding of relief (e.g., compensatory education, tuition reim-
bursement) of approximately 50% of that originally sought by the parent. Further, in situa-
tions where the original amount of relief sought is unknown, this category includes the
awarding of relief approximating 50% of that originally awarded by a lower court to the
parent. In addition, this category includes cases in which petitions by both parties for re-
hearing are denied, as well as the denial of cross motions for summary judgment (because
the effect in such situations does not favor either party).
5—Inconclusive win for the school This category includes the denial of a preliminary injunction or summary judgment sought
authorities by the parent (in that the parent still has the opportunity for a trial). In addition, it includes
cases dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (i.e., cases where the parent
did not resort first to a due process hearing) and cases dismissed without prejudice (be-
cause, after correcting the specified technical defects, the parents may still have their day
6—Decision largely, but not completely, This category includes the awarding of relief (e.g., compensatory education, tuition reim
for school authorities bursement) of clearly less than 50% of that originally sought by the parent. Further, in
situations where the original relief sought is not known, this category includes the awarding
of relief approximating 50% of that originally awarded by a lower court to the parent.
7—Complete win for school authorities This category includes granting of a summary judgment in favor of school authorities (be-
cause in both cases, the school authorities have won decisively at this preliminary step, end-
ing the proceedings against them).
dominant or completely conclusive decisions in favor of par-
ents and 12 were conclusively in favor of districts.
In addition, Table 3 summarizes the factors related to
the conclusive outcomes in favor of parents and districts in
cases regarding program implementation. The most frequent
outcome-related factors were, in order, testimony of witnesses
(n = 24), documentation of progress (n = 16), and procedural
compliance of the IEP with the requirements of IDEA (n =
16). For the parent-won cases of program implementation,
the most frequent factors were, in order, testimony of parent-
retained expert witnesses (n = 13), procedural compliance of
the IEP with the requirements of IDEA (n = 8), and docu-
mentation of progress as evidence of the substantive standard
of educational benefit (n = 7). For the district-won cases of
program implementation, the most frequently noted factors
were testimony of district witnesses (n = 11), documentation
of progress (n = 9), and procedural compliance of the IEP with
the requirements of IDEA (n = 8).
THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004 99
TABLE 2. Outcome-Related Factor Descriptions
Outcome-related factor Description
Compliance with IDEA requirements
Individualized Education Program This category concerns the appropriateness and completeness of the IEP components (i.e.,
(IEP) elements present level of educational performance; statement of measurable annual goals; special
education, related services, and supplementary aids and services to be provided; extent of
participation in general education; assessment modifications; projected dates of initiation
and duration of services; statement of transition services, if applicable; and statement of
how progress will be measured and reported) as specified in IDEA 1997.
Other procedural requirements This category consists of procedural issues such as time lines, notices, and IEP meeting
participants as specified in IDEA 1997.
Evidence of educational benefit
Documentation of progress This category consists of documentation, provided by the parent or district, of the
educational progress of student, such as progress charts and data sheets.
Testimony of witnesses This category focuses on the persuasiveness of testimony provided by the district
personnel, district-retained experts, and parent-retained experts.
Note. IDEA = Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
TABLE 3. Case Frequency of Outcome-Related Factors
Factor Parent District frequency
Compliance with IDEA requirements
IEP elements 14 11 25
Other procedural requirements 7 2 9
Evidence of educational benefit
Documentation of progress 20 8 28
Testimony of witnesses 16 14 30
Compliance with IDEA requirements
IEP elements 8 8 16
Other procedural requirements 4 2 6
Evidence of educational benefit
Documentation of progress 7 9 16
Testimony of witnesses 13 11 24
Note. IDEA = Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; IEP = Individualized Education Program.
100 THE JOURNAL OF SPECIAL EDUCATION VOL. 38/NO. 2/2004
An examination of Table 3 in terms of the outcome-
related factor totals reveals the same predominant pattern in
program selection cases and program implementation cases
and in both parent-won cases and district-won cases. Specif-
ically, the most frequent factors for both categories of cases
were effectiveness of the testimony of witnesses, documenta-
tion of progress, and IEP elements.
This study expanded the scope and improved the methods of
previous pertinent research. Its purposes were to determine
the overall outcome of the two subsamples—those cases fo-
cused on program selection and those focused on program im-
plementation—and to identify the outcome-related factors in
both groups of cases.
First, in terms of the overall outcomes, contrary to the
common conception (e.g., Gryzwacz & Lombardo, 1999), the
decisions did not predominantly favor districts. Conversely,
qualifying the findings of Yell and Drasgow (2000), the out-
comes did not strongly favor parents. Rather, the overall out-
comes for both program-selection and program-implementation
cases were virtually evenly split between the two subsamples.
This finding, which is likely attributed to the individualized,
“it depends” nature of IDEA, is in line with the more general
trends of autism cases (Zirkel, 2001) and special education
cases (Zirkel, 1998).
The findings of this study suggest that the odds of either
party (i.e., parent or district) decidedly winning are 50-50 for
ABA/DDT/Lovaas autism cases. Further, the study suggests
that the odds of either party decidedly winning are the same
for cases dealing with the selection of instructional approach
(e.g., Lovaas or TEACCH) as for those regarding the imple-
mentation of said approach (e.g., its location, duration, or fre-
Second, a parallel pattern of outcome-related factors
emerged in both program-selection and program-implemen-
tation cases, suggesting that the outcome is related to particu-
lar factors working in favor of either the district or the parents.
At the threshold stage, four factors met the minimum criterion
for tabular analysis: (a) IEP elements, (b) other procedural re-
quirements, (c) documentation of progress, and (d) testimony
of witnesses. Among these four factors, testimony of witnesses
was most frequent for both program-selection and program-
implementation cases. Moreover, the pattern was approxi-
mately parallel for both groups of cases with respect to the
second and third most frequent outcome-related factors—
namely, documentation of progress and IEP elements. Addi-
tionally, “other procedural requirements” was in fourth place
for both types of cases.
The most frequently occurring outcome-related factor,
testimony of witnesses, had not been empirically identified in
the previous pertinent literature. In both program-selection
and program-implementation cases, the outcome-related fac-
tors, which provide evidence of educational benefit (documen-
tation of progress and testimony of witnesses), occurred most
frequently. This finding is consistent with the substantive re-
quirements of IDEA. It further suggests that both parents and
districts must be prepared to defend their program by provid-
ing witnesses who are knowledgeable about the unique needs
of the child and have autism program expertise. The witness
or witnesses must convince the hearing/review officer or judge
that the program provides educational benefit for the child.
Further, the parents or district must provide documentation
of demonstrated progress toward educational goals. In terms
of documentation of progress and evidence of educational
benefit, this finding confirms Heflin and Simpson’s (1998) im-
pressionistic conclusion about proof of efficacy of program-
In spite of the fact that the factors associated with com-
pliance with IDEA requirements (IEP elements and other pro-
cedural requirements) occurred less frequently, they were
important outcome-related factors for both parents and dis-
tricts. If the requirements are not satisfied, the hearing/review
officer or judge will find against the noncompliant party.
Therefore, the “evidence of educational benefit” factor may
occur only in cases where the parties satisfied the compliance
requirements of IDEA.
Although the frequency of “other procedural require-
ments” was found fourth in occurrence among the factors and
applied almost exclusively to districts, both parties would be
advised to attend to this seemingly minor factor. In most of
the cases, there were no technical violations, and if they oc-
curred, they were not severe enough to result in a denial of
FAPE (free and appropriate public education). When FAPE is
denied, the district could be found to cause harm to the stu-
dent’s educational program. Examples of these errors include
placement decisions made before the development of mea-
surable goals and objectives, failure to specify the frequency
and length of services (e.g., Taunton Pub. Sch., 1997), failure
to comply with timeline requirements (e.g., Cobb County Sch.
Sys., 1996), and failure to include parental participation in IEP
development (e.g., T.H. v. Board of Educ. of Palatine Commu-
nity Consol. Sch. Dist., 1998). In cases where there were sub-
stantial procedural errors that denied FAPE, parents prevailed
in their requests for programming. This finding seemingly
supports the theory that the substantive standard established
in Rowley receives greater emphasis in legal cases than pro-
cedural, technical compliance (Yell & Drasgow, 2000).
Therefore, if parents seek to be successful in ABA/DTT/
Lovaas autism cases, they need to be prepared to establish an
appropriate program and validate it with empirical evidence
and effective experts. Additionally, their probability of suc-
cess appears to be enhanced when they prove that the district
has committed procedural violations or when the district fails
to provide evidentiary support of the efficacy of its proffered
program. Although each case stands on its own merits, these
particular factors appear to be associated with, or predictive
of, a favorable parent outcome.
For a district to be successful in ABA/DTT/Lovaas cases,
the district similarly needs to provide evidence of the educa-
tional benefit of its program through the testimony of well-
qualified and prepared personnel or expert witnesses, as well
as other evidence of the substantive appropriateness of its pro-
gram with documentation of progress. Demonstration of the
level of expertise of the district personnel who deliver the pro-
gram either supports or fails to support the substantive ap-
propriateness of the program. For example, the district service
providers must be able to show defensible familiarity with the
unique needs of the child and cogent knowledge of the criti-
cal program components of the correspondents’ program.
Although the courts hesitate to dictate methodology,
when a hearing officer or court determines that FAPE is de-
nied, the courts will impose a program. Procedures and sub-
stance create an appropriate program, and a deficit in either
creates a gap that the court may fill with a program requested
by the parent.
These interpretations are cautious and relatively con-
servative for several reasons. First, there have been no prior
systematic analyses of the pertinent case law and thus the find-
ings lack replication. Second, although the sample was com-
prehensive, it represented only the published pertinent
decisions, as opposed to the much larger but generally un-
available settled and unreported decisions. Third, the factors
in this study were gleaned from the written decisions of the
hearing/review officers or judges and may not reflect the to-
tality of outcome-related factors involved in the decisions
(e.g., undisclosed side comments).
Therefore, this analysis constitutes a significant start
rather than a conclusive end for autism methodology litigation.
For example, further research is recommended to investigate
the relationship of deference to outcome with a homogeneous
sample of judicial cases. Deference, in the judicial context,
refers to the court giving the benefit of the doubt to the deci-
sion of a lower level of decision-making (Newcomer & Zirkel,
1999). In this context, there are three potential lower levels.
First, in appellate cases, the court typically accords deference
to the trial court, at least in terms of factual findings. Second,
in Carlisle Area School District v. Scott P. (1995), a tuition re-
imbursement case for a student who was blind, not included
in this study, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals explained that
a “clearly erroneous standard” (p. 526) applied to the trial
court’s findings in this case for factual questions. Thus, if the
trial court decision were wrong, but not clearly wrong, the ap-
peals court would affirm the finding. Third, in trial or appel-
late cases, the court may accord deference to the decision of
the hearing officer or, in states that have elected to have two
tiers of impartial administrative adjudication, the review offi-
cer. For example, in Burilovich v. Board of Educ. of the Lin-
coln Consolidated School District (1998), the district court
observed, “This court has give[n] appropriate deference to the
administrative determination of the state hearing officer”
(p. 283). Finally, some courts have accorded deference to the
decision of the state or local educational authorities, such as
the school district. For example, in an inclusion case not in-
cluded in this study, Greer v. Rome City School District (1991),
the Eleventh Circuit Court noted, “It is not our intention here
to invade the deference due school districts in their choice of
educational methodologies” (p. 699).
This research reports that neither parents nor school dis-
tricts predominately win autism/ABA/DTT cases where the
method of instruction or the implementation of program is con-
tested. However, the results suggest that four factors are related
to the outcome of autism program selection and implementa-
tion cases. As the number of students with autism increases,
the number of cases in litigation concerning appropriate pro-
grams will undoubtedly rise. Any definitive generalization from
this research should be tempered by the individualistic nature
of IDEA and, consequently, the case law.
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Comprehensive Case Listing
of Hearing/Review Officer (“SEA”) and Court Decisions
The analysis was based on the highest published decision in each case. Additionally, any published
previous decisions in the same case at a lower level are noted in brackets.
1. Adams v. State of Oregon, 195 F.3d 1141, 31 IDELR ¶ 130 (9th Cir.
2. Alexander v. Virginia Bd. of Educ., 30 IDELR 967 (E.D. Va. 1999)
3. Asbury v. Missouri Dep’t of Elementary and Secondary Educ., 29
IDELR 877 (E.D. Mo. 1999)
4. Azle Indep. Sch. Dist., 26 IDELR 931 (Tex. SEA 1997)
5. Barretown Elementary Sch. Dist., 29 IDELR 521 (Vt. SEA 1998)
6. Board of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of the City of New York, 24
IDELR 199 (N.Y. SEA 1996)
7. Board of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of the City of New York, 28
IDELR 519 (N.Y. SEA 1998)
8. Board of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of the City of New York, 33
IDELR ¶ 58 (N.Y. SEA 2000)
9. Board of Educ. of the City Sch. Dist. of White Plains, 25 IDELR 872
(N.Y. SEA 1997)
10. Board of Educ. of the County of Kanawha v. Michael M., 32 IDELR
¶ 170 and 33 IDELR ¶ 185 (S.D.W.Va. 2000)
11. Board of Educ. of the Eastchester Union Free Sch. Dist., 33 IDELR
¶ 287 (N.Y. SEA 2000)
12. Board of Educ. of the Greenwood Lake Union Free Sch. Dist., 23
IDELR 1032 (N.Y. SEA 1996)
13. Board of Educ. of the North Rose-Wolcott Cent. Sch. Dist., 26 IDELR
325 (N.Y. SEA 1997)
14. Board of Educ. of the Roslyn Union Free Sch. Dist., 31 IDELR ¶ 201
(N.Y. SEA 1999)
15. Burilovich v. Board of Educ. of the Lincoln Consol. Sch., 32 IDELR
¶ 85 (6th Cir. 2000) [Burilovich v. Board of Educ. of the Lincoln
Consol. Sch., 28 IDELR 277 (E.D. Mich. 1998)]
16. Calaveras Unified Sch. Dist., 21 IDELR 211 (Cal. SEA 1994)
17. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 23 IDELR 1209 (Cal. SEA 1995)
18. Chester County Intermediate Unit, 23 IDELR 723 (Pa. SEA 1995)
19. Child with Disabilities, In re, 23 IDELR 471 (Conn. SEA 1995)
20. CM v. Board of Educ. of Henderson County, 34 IDELR ¶ 57 (4th Cir.
2001) [CM v. Board of Educ. of Henderson County, 29 IDELR 866
and 32 IDELR ¶ 89 (W.D. N.C. 1999)] and M.E. v. Board of Educ. for
Buncombe County, 32 IDELR ¶ 63 (W.D. N.C. 1999)
21. Cobb County Sch. Sys., 24 IDELR 875 (Ga. SEA 1996)
22. Cobb County Sch., 24 IDELR 1113 (Ga. SEA 1996)
23. Delaware County Intermediate Unit #25 v. Martin K., 20 IDELR 363
(E.D. Pa. 1993)
24. De Mora v. Department of Pub.Welfare, 34 IDELR ¶ 85 (Pa. Commw.
25. Dong v. Board of Educ. of the Rochester Community Sch., 31 IDELR
¶ 157 (6th Cir. 1999) [Dong v. Board of Educ. of the Rochester Com-
munity Sch., 29 IDELR 196 (E.D. Mich. 1998)]
26. Fairfax County Pub. Sch., 22 IDELR 80 (Va. SEA 1995)
27. Flour Bluff Indep. Sch. Dist., 25 IDELR 1121 (Tex. SEA 1997)
28. Frederick County Pub. Sch., 29 IDELR 1012 (Md. SEA 1999)
29. G. v. Fort Bragg Dependent Sch., 34 IDELR ¶ 176 (E.D. N.C. 2001)
[Student with a Disability, In re, 30 IDELR 408 (DDDLSA 1998) and
G., In re, 27 IDELR 451 (DDDLSA 1997)]
30. Gellerman v. Calaveras Unified Sch. Dist., 34 IDELR ¶ 33 (E.D. Ca.
2000) [Calaveras Unified Sch. Dist., 29 IDELR 1099 (Cal. SEA 1998)]
31. Gill v. Columbia 93 Sch. Dist., 32 IDELR ¶ 254 (8th Cir. 2000) [Gill
v. Columbia 93 Sch. Dist., 29 IDELR 955 and 31 IDELR ¶ 29 (W.D.
32. High Bridge Bd. of Educ., 24 IDELR 589 (N.J. SEA 1995)
33. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 281, 28 IDELR 370 (Minn. SEA 1998)*
34. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 281, 28 IDELR 340 (Minn. SEA 1998)*
35. Independent Sch. Dist. No. 318, 24 IDELR 1096 (Minn. SEA 1996)
36. La Mesa-Spring Valley Sch. Dist., 30 IDELR 191 (Cal. SEA 1999)
37. Lexington County Sch. Dist. Five, 25 IDELR 933 (S.C. SEA 1997)
38. Lexington County Sch. Dist. One, 29 IDELR 808 (S.C. SEA 1998)
[Lexington County Sch. Dist. One, 27 IDELR 1182 (S.C. SEA 1998)]
39. Long Beach Unified Sch. Dist., 29 IDELR 541 (Cal. SEA 1998)
40. Los Alamitos Unified Sch. Dist., 26 IDELR 766 (Cal. SEA 1997)
41. Malkentzos v. DeBuono, 25 IDELR 36 (2d Cir. 1996) [Malkentzos v.
DeBuono, 24 IDELR 31 (S.D. N.Y. 1996)]
42. Mr. and Mrs. “B” v. Board of Educ. o/f the Syosset Sch. Dist., 27
IDELR 685 (E.D. N.Y. 1998)
43. Mr. X v. New York State Educ. Dep’t, 26 IDELR 854 (S.D. N.Y. 1997)
and 29 IDELR 705 (S.D. N.Y. 1998)
44. MSAD #28, 27 IDELR 786 (Me. SEA 1998)
45. Multnomah Educ. Serv. Dist., 24 IDELR 98 and 24 IDELR 606 (Or.
46. Norwood Pub. Sch., 28 IDELR 1282 (Mass. SEA 1998)
47. Old Adobe Union Elementary Sch. Dist., 27 IDELR 70 (Cal. SEA
48. Peninsula Sch. Dist., 27 IDELR 381 (Wash. SEA 1995)
49. Petersham Pub. Sch., 26 IDELR 703 (Mass. SEA 1997)
50. Portland Pub. Sch., 26 IDELR 96 (Me. SEA 1997)
51. Rebecca S. v. Clarke County Sch. Dist., 22 IDELR 884 (M.D. Ga.
52. Redlands Unified Sch. Dist., 28 IDELR 1256 (Cal. SEA 1998)
53. Renner v. Board Educ. of the Pub. Sch., 30 IDELR 885 (6th Cir. 1999)
[Board of Educ. of the Ann Arbor Pub. Sch., 24 IDELR 621 (Mich.
54. Salem-Keizer Sch. Dist. No. 9, 34 IDELR ¶ 26 (Or. SEA 2000)
55. Sanford Sch. Comm. v. Mr. And Mrs. L., 34 IDELR ¶ 262 (D. Me.
56. School Bd. of Martin County v. A.S., 29 IDELR 964 (Fla. Dist. Ct.
57. Shoreline Sch. Dist., 26 IDELR 923 (Wash. SEA 1997)
58. Special Sch. Dist. #1, 30 IDELR 419 (Minn. SEA 1999)
59. Steinmetz v. Richmond Community Sch. Corp., 33 IDELR ¶ 155 (S.D.
Ind. 2000) [Richmond Community Sch. Corp., 29 IDELR 443 (Ind.
SEA 1998) and 30 IDELR 208 (Ind. SEA 1999)]
60. Still v. DeBuono, 25 IDELR 32 (2d Cir 1996) [Still v. DeBuono, 24
IDELR 334 (S.D. N.Y. 1996])
61. T.H. v. Board of Educ. of Palatine Community Consol. Sch. Dist. 15,
29 IDELR 471 (N.D. Ill. 1998) and 30 IDELR 764 (N.D. Ill. 1999)
[Palatine Community Consol. Sch. Dist 15, 29 IDELR 258 (N.D. Ill.
62. Taunton Pub. Sch., 27 IDELR 108 (Mass. SEA 1997)
63. Tuscaloosa County Bd. of Educ., 21 IDELR 826 (Ala. SEA 1994)
64. Union Sch. Dist. v. Smith, 20 IDELR 987 (9th Cir. 1994) [Union Ele-
mentary Sch. Dist., 16 EHLR 978 (Cal. 1990)]
65. Walker County Sch. Dist. v. Bennett, 31 IDELR ¶ 239 (11th Cir. 2000)
[Walker County Sch. Sys., 26 IDELR 440 (Ga. SEA 1997)]
66. Waltham Pub. Sch., 1988-89 EHLR 401:431 (Mass. SEA 1989)
67. Washoe County Sch. Dist., 27 IDELR 560 (Nev. SEA 1997)
68. Watertown Pub. Sch. Dist., 26 IDELR 92 (Mass. SEA 1996)
* Separate cases (twin brothers).
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