Atli Magnusson, MS, BCBA
For many staff alumni from The New England Center for Children® (NECC®), their career goals reach beyond being an educator. They strive to be leaders in the fields of autism and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), overseeing Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) and opening their own programs to help children with autism in underserved areas. While these goals are common, few have accomplished them as successfully as Atli Magnusson. After a six-year stint at NECC from 1999-2005, Magnusson returned to his native Iceland and has made a sizable impact on the provision of services for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Magnusson, along with two colleagues, opened Arnarskóli in 2017. Arnarskóli is a school for children with autism and other developmental disabilities that uses the principles of ABA to help students learn and grow. In addition, Arnarskóli also plays another key role in Iceland’s autism community. Through a collaboration with Reykjavík University, the school takes master’s students in ABA and provides them with direct experience. A research collaboration is also forthcoming. If Arnarskóli’s model sounds familiar, it’s because it is.
“The school we started is basically a replication of the New England Center model, specifically the day school,” Magnusson says. “We are trying to build something similar to NECC in a smaller capacity. The experience that I had at NECC impacted what we have done so far and will continue to do so in the future.”
Magnusson’s work to build this comprehensive program is important beyond the impact it has on students. The school is a pioneer in the realm of autism services in Iceland. While other specialized schools exist in the country, Arnarskóli is the first that trains all teachers to use the principles of ABA in working with students. By training teachers and graduate students, Magnusson hopes to have a wide-reaching impact on special education in Iceland. In describing this aspiration, Magnusson calls upon his time at NECC.
“One of the things I witnessed during my time at NECC was how much the school districts around NECC evolved. When I first got to NECC, there were pretty much no behavior analysts working in school districts,” he says. “When I left in 2005, and in the years since, it seems as though there are BCBAs in pretty much every public school system. That is something we hope to do in Iceland. We hope to have a similar effect on the general school districts where people who have trained with us and gotten their experience and BCBA go into school districts and help work with children with developmental disabilities…It’s one of our missions.”