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POSITIVE BEHAVIOR SUPPORT WITH DARNELL CHERRY – 4 of 8 Critical Growth Components in Autism Education

By Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen  


Positive behavior support is a huge hot topic in Autism education. This practice is called Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), which is explained in this article. The Autism Academy for Education and Development applies diverse techniques to support behavioral growth:  

  • Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), 
  • Augmentative Communication Devices 
  • Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
  • Individual Behavior Plans
  • Visual Schedules
  • Structure Classroom Environments  
  • Positive Reinforcements.  

The Autism Academy for Education and Development is a rapidly growing Autism-only school with four campuses throughout the state of Arizona. The growth of the organization is a direct correlation with the school’s philosophy toward 8 growth components. Our ongoing weekly blog series contains 8 critical growth components to raise national awareness for best practices for children with Autism. This fourth week features Positive Behavior Support with Darnell Cherry. 

Critical Growth Components in Autism Education Blog Series:   

  1. Independent Living with Jennifer Sevier 
  2. Autism Academic Awareness with Kimberly Baltzley 
  3. Living Your Best Life with Katie Nieder  
  4. Positive Behavior Support with Darnell Cherry 
  5. Curriculum, Coaching and Culture with Shawn Davis 
  6. Character Building and Development with Derrick Jamerson
  7. Fostering A Fun Atmosphere with Carrie Hatanaka 
  8. Speech, Occupational and Animal Therapies with Kalona Newcomb

Darnell Cherry is the dean of students at AAED A+ Academy Tempe campus. He plans to fulfill his 3-part role as dean by strengthening students academically, socially and within the AAED Community.  

“A+ Academy is a cutting edge school,” Cherry said. “The entire staff puts kids first.” One of 4 building blocks AAED states that students are friends and welcome new students with open arms. 

“I will help effectuate dances, social gatherings as well as the Special Olympics sports teams,” Cherry said. “With these types of programs in place, students can make new friends as well as socialize in and out of the classroom setting.” Cherry’s initiatives can only take place because of the AAED approach toward ABA. 


Applied Behavior Analysis is a systematic process based on principles of learning. This theory is used to make meaningful changes to behavior. It is especially effective amongst students with Autism. It is considered a best practice for Autism education and serves as a foundation for all other services provided. Students with Individual Educational plans (IEP) have specific objectives to aid in their academic progress.  

Some Common Methods Used in ABA Sessions:

  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT)
  • Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT)
  • Behavior Management
  • Social Activities.  


In addition to various methods, at AAED we offer social activities and athletics to improve social development. Each activity targets a different area of development to enhance various skill sets: 

  • Conversation Skills 
  • Friendship Skills 
  • Verbal and Non-verbal Cues 


Staff training, supervision and professional development all play critical roles in the quality of any program. Research illustrates that quality supervision is directly tied to program outcomes. “When things seem difficult, do not succumb to the difficulties, keep pushing forward,” Cherry said. “Tough times never last but tough people do.” Positive behavior support, implemented in a systematic manner, provides endless opportunities for students with Autism.  


Cherry earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education and teaching certification from Pt. Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. He received his Masters in Educational Administration from National University. He is a former Division II All American basketball players. He played basketball professionally in La Pampa, Argentina for 6 seasons. Cherry was the head basketball coach at Southwestern College in San Diego for 8 years. He has an extensive background working as a special education teacher in the San Diego Unified School District. Cherry joined the AAED family at the onset of the 2018-19 school year as a middle school math teacher.