Effective Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

There are many interventions available for educators who work with students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). But not all interventions are created equally. Educators need to be good consumers in evaluating interventions and applying those that have been determined effective and ergo have the best chance of promoting positive outcomes for students. Only some of the touted interventions are based on rigorous scientific research and have the capacity to improve a student’s development, these are called evidence-based practices (EBP).

 

Interventions established as evidence-based should be the go-to interventions for educators. Because of this, the law now requires that teaching practices be based on evidence of effectiveness to further the development of students.

(Source: National Professional Development Center)

To assess whether an intervention qualifies as an EBP, the National Professional Development Center on ASD looks at peer-reviewed research on the intervention. An intervention is also considered to be an evidence-based practice if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • Randomized or quasi-experimental design studies: Two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental group design studies by two different research groups.
  • Single-subject design studies: Five high-quality, single-subject studies by three different research groups with at least 20 participants.
  • Combination of evidence: One high-quality, randomized or quasi-experimental group design study conducted by at least three different investigators or research groups.

While the criteria is not easy to fulfill, in this way educators and interveners are able to gain confirmation of effectiveness of a particular intervention that enhances a child’s development and supports them in a vital way. A sample of ASD interventions that are considered effective include:

  • Antecedent-based intervention: Arranging events or circumstances that precede an interfering, or problematic, behavior in order to reduce that behavior. For example, say a student repeatedly struggles to focus on her workbook exercises during class time. An instructor using antecedent-based intervention might realize that the issue is related to the student’s schedule, and offer a break before workbook time.
  • Functional behavior assessment: Systematic collection of information about an interfering behavior designed to identify circumstances that support the behavior. When an instructor uses FBA, he describes the problem behavior, identifies events before or after that control the behavior, and develops a hypothesis about the behavior. Then, he tests the hypothesis.
  • Modeling: Demonstration of a desired behavior that encourages the student to imitate the behavior. This EBP is often combined with other strategies such as prompting and reinforcement.
  • Peer-mediated instruction and intervention: Typically developing peers or help children with ASD to acquire new behavior, communication, and social skills by interacting in natural environments. Teachers or service providers teach peers strategies for engaging children and youth with ASD in positive and extended social interactions in both teacher-directed and learner-initiated activities.
  • Social skills training: Group or individual instruction designed to teach learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ways to appropriately interact with peers and adults. Most social skill meetings include instruction, role-playing or practice, and feedback to help learners with ASD acquire and practice communication, play, or social skills.

Keeping up with evidence-based practices takes some extra effort, but being knowledgeable about the options available and how to implement them properly makes a significant impact. Students deserve the best education possible..

To learn more, view the updated EBP report that supports the identification of 27 ASD evidence-based practices and includes fact sheets for each evidence-based practice.

For more resources, visit The National Professional Development Center online.

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Changing the Seclusion and Restraint Culture in Schools

By Dr. Patricia Wright, Vice President of Professsional Services, Rethink Ed

Schools often face many challenges when it comes to responding to students who exhibit challenging behaviors. In some cases, these behaviors can pose a serious danger to one’s self or others and require careful attention. However, in most cases, challenging behaviors are merely disruptive and should not be considered an opportunity to restrain or seclude a student. While it is common practice to discourage seclusion and restraint, these practices are still being used in some schools.

The Government Accountability Report published in 2009 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office documents multiple cases of abuse and death related to seclusion and restraint in schools. The report also found “no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in public and private schools.” Several states and territories have policies and guidelines regarding seclusion and restraint and they are exceedingly clear that these practices are to be used only for dangerous behaviors.

But according to the GAO report, students with disabilities in some schools around the country were often forcibly restrained by untrained professionals when they were performing non-threatening behaviors. This is a clear indication that these practices are still used inappropriately. The use of seclusion and restraint also continues to be a major source of contention for educators.

In the three decades I’ve spent working with educators and students with challenging behaviors, I’ve noticed that consultations often started with educators asking “What should we do when a dangerous behavior happens?” This is an important question; however, I believe that a more appropriate question educators should ask is “What should we to do prevent a dangerous behavior from ever happening?”

Corporal punishment and seclusion can have a negative and sometimes traumatic effect on students and should never be used in cases where a student is not a threat to themselves or others. It has also been systematically demonstrated that these types of discipline aren’t as effective as the use of evidence-based behavior intervention and support, which can dramatically reduce dangerous and disruptive behaviors and prevent them from happening in the future.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is an approach that establishes the behavioral support and culture necessary for students to succeed socially, emotionally and academically. It provides concrete strategies to promote skill development and reduce the likelihood of a student exhibiting a challenging behavior. Although challenging behaviors aren’t common in every student, there are a number of factors that can lead a student to perform a challenging or disruptive behavior.  This can include mood swings, difficult situations at school, sudden trigger or a learning disability.

Teaching students to engage in appropriate behaviors is well within the educator wheelhouse and teachers, paraprofessionals and related service-providers can accomplish this by simply utilizing evidence-based practices such as functional behavior assessments, functional communication training and positive reinforcement.

In order for the culture of seclusion and restraint to change, more professional development and support is necessary for educators who deal with students who exhibit challenging behaviors. Educators can also benefit from access to training videos and comprehensive resources on how to implement effective positive behavior and support strategies.

Rethink is committed to ensuring that all children receive a quality educational experience in environments that are conducive to the growth and development of students and educators. Addressing challenging behavior is necessary to ensure a safe and effective learning environment. Through Rethink’s easy-to-use platform and extensive training programs, educators can learn the basics of behavioral intervention and gain helpful advice on how to impact their school culture in a positive way.

With hope, the use of effective positive behavioral support strategies can be the key to reducing the need for seclusion and restraint and moving towards a safe and healthy environment for all.

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Person-Centered Planning for Adulthood

Person-centered planning (PCP) is an approach to support individuals with disabilities in planning for their future. PCP benefits students, supporting them to define the life they wish to live and develop a problem-solving process to achieve their life goals.  The process includes a student inviting family members, friends and others to meetings to discuss their hopes, dreams and desires; inviting others to  contribute to the discussion on identifying their goals and ways to achieve them.  Facilitators play an important part in the PCP process. They keep supporters focused on the individual and ensure that the voice of the individual is heard and is the primary focus. Some schools use PCP as part of the IEP process.

Although the PCP approach helps students and families create a concrete vision and plan for a student’s future, some students require significant support to participate as fully as possible in the process. This can be due to communication limitations or a lack of maturity.

To support students’ increased participation in the PCP or transition-planning process, educators and families can:

  • Promote choice – Help students make simple choices (e.g., what to wear, what to make for breakfast, what order to complete their homework in, what they want to order for lunch, etc.) Promoting more choice-based options can help lead to self-advocacy later in life.
  • Create sampling opportunities – Provide sampling opportunities to students and help them identify their goals and preferences. This can include giving a student the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities to gauge interest. Use an assessment to identify student interests. Once a level of interest is established in a particular activity, continue to support the student in further developing skills specific to their interests.
  • Use assessments – Find and use different assessments and curriculum to facilitate the sampling process and gain support. The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) created by James Partington and Michael Mueller is a skills assessment that encourages community participation and helps identify interests and areas where students need assistance. Once you identify these interests and needy areas, you can start to teach students skills to achieve their goals. This can empower them to fully participate in the PCP or transition-planning process.

Rethinks’ Transition Curriculum helps educators build and further enhance transition-related skills for students. It includes goal builders, lesson plans and materials to teach community, home, employment and social skills to help students actively participate in their life planning process and prepare for life beyond school. It also enables students become their own advocates and encourages them to actively participate in communities specific to their interests.

Transition lessons break skills down into simple lessons that help students understand the importance of self-care, following routines and instructions, making choices, participating in groups, accepting feedback and correction and more. These sample lessons demonstrate how skills can be used to teach students to assume responsibility for their actions and establish independence in skill-building scenarios.

The PCP or transition process doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an ongoing process that requires care and consideration of a student’s specific needs and goals. Students also vary in skill and disposition, so it is always wise to develop plans and steps to support a student throughout the process, even if he or she can clearly articulate their expectations for their own personal development. Starting early in the educational process with communication, social skills and self-determination encourages children and youth to actively engage in their future planning and will promote improved participation in Person Centered Planning.

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Development and Career Advancement for Paraprofessionals

By Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D Director of Research at Rethink

The role of a paraprofessional is heavily dependent on the needs of each student, and as such, their duties are ever changing. Some of the most important changes to highlight are the fluctuations in student behavior and performance that many paraprofessionals encounter. This is significantly heightened in school environments where paraprofessionals support students with disabilities and those who exhibit challenging behaviors.

To meet these challenges, it is important for paraprofessionals to learn and apply behavior analytic skills in their work. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an effective and commonly used approach for special education and inclusive models for students with Individualized Education Programs. It used as a means to apply interventions that help to significantly improve and impact behavior. Learning how to use it successfully can help paraprofessionals remediate disruptive behaviors, provide new learning opportunities for students and assist teachers in helping students build the skills necessary to meet their IEP goals.

In addition to managing student behavior, there are a number of additional skills paraprofessionals must master. These include:

  • Implementing behavior intervention plans
  • Using effective reinforcement to assist students
  • Using prompts after instructional stimulus
  • Using prompt-fading strategies
  • Implementing evidence-based instruction
  • Accurately recording student progress
  • Providing maintenance and generalization opportunities
  • Providing opportunities to build communication and social skills

Despite promise in the profession, many paraprofessionals who encounter issues on the job struggle to find adequate training for the skills they must possess. Many convey they are not adequately trained or prepared to take on the responsibilities that are required of their position.

Paraprofessionals also report that they are often left alone with students to make important decisions and act independently, despite federal mandates that require paraprofessionals to work under the supervision of a certified teacher. This discomfort is illuminated when paraprofessionals receive professional learning opportunities from sources that are lacking in cohesion and comprehensiveness.

Creating opportunities for paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals can positively influence student achievement and the classroom environment when they are provided with adequate training and professional support.

This type of support means granting more opportunities for paraprofessionals to grow professionally and learn skills they can use to benefit their students and their schools. Like any job, career growth provides motivation for engagement and learning. Once basic skills are acquired through relevant training, paraprofessionals should be given the opportunity to advance their skills and advance in their career.

Here are two ways that paraprofessionals can experience high-quality professional development:

Registered Behavior Technician training

The Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) credential from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is for paraprofessionals who wish to demonstrate competency in behavior analysis under the supervision of a certified behavior analyst. Acquiring the credential requires 40 hours of instruction in behavior analysis, demonstration of these skills in an observation conducted by a certified behavior analyst and a competency exam. Certification also improves the confidence of administrators and parents that students are receiving quality services from paraprofessionals.

On-demand training

On-demand training provides opportunity to learn the necessary skills with flexible scheduling. On-demand professional development in conjunction with strong coaching and leadership leads to a higher quality in instructional support. On-demand training is delivered in a number of different forms, including video modeling, video self-modeling, didactic instruction via video, narrated PowerPoint presentations and assigned readings. Training includes learning assessments for those receiving training and requires teachers and administrators to monitor the progress of those engaged in training. On-demand professional development is also convenient and it can increase confidence, reduce costs and decrease time needed for training.

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Spotlight Teacher of the Month: Tracy Niccum

Position: Special Education Life Skills Teacher
District: School District of Washington, Missouri

Ms. Niccum is a Special Education Teacher from Washington West Elementary School.  Washington West is one of seven elementary schools in the School District of Washington in Washington, Missouri. Ms. Niccum educates students in grades 2 through 6 and has used the Rethink platform for two years.

As a second-year teacher, Ms. Niccum was initially hesitant to implement Rethink with all the work teachers are required to do during the year. So she started small.

“I focused on one or two students and realized I could link their behavioral plans and Individualized Education Program goals to Rethink,” Ms. Niccum said. Once she learned how Rethink could improve her classroom, she started using it more.

Ms. Niccum now uses Rethink regularly and said she feels “The most valuable aspect of Rethink is the ability to collect data and link Individualized Education Program goals and behavioral plans to the platform.”

One of the toughest challenges for Ms. Niccum as a teacher is improving her data collection process and encouraging student independence within the classroom.

“Data collection is a huge part of education and when you have a self-contained classroom, it can be very overwhelming,” said Ms. Niccum.

Rethink’s easy-to-use platform makes it seamless, said Ms. Niccum, with printable data collection sheets, graphs and summary reports. Rethink webinars and on-site visits provide her with the extra support she needs to implement individual schedules for students and help them succeed.

Her students also use the Activity Center to practice specific skills that align with
their IEPs. One of Ms. Niccum’s students uses the Activity Center twice a week and takes the lead setting up her own schedule on the platform, which she enjoys.

Ms. Niccum regularly selects different math and reading activities for her student to complete that align with her student’s IEP goals and the curriculum she teaches.

This integration, Ms. Niccum said, makes it easier to track progress and is important because teachers “have to be able to show student growth on IEP goals.” Teachers in her district must also indicate how students are improving on each goal at the end of every quarter.

The process can be riddled with paperwork, but Ms. Niccum said Rethink makes it much more manageable for paraprofessionals and teachers at her school.

Ms. Niccum on tracking student progress and IEP goals using the Rethink IEP builder

“The most valuable aspect of Rethink is the ability to collect data and link IEP and behavioral plans to the platform.”

Ms. Niccum said she plans to implement Rethink programs and activities for all her students so she can track student progress and IEP goals in the most effective way.

She hopes other teachers and principals consider subject areas in their schools that need improvement and discover how Rethink can help them. Ms. Niccum also believes that Rethink is especially valuable to special educators.

“We are always looking for ways to reduce the abundance of paperwork we have to do on a daily basis,” Ms. Niccum said. “The process goes much quicker when you can just click a button and pull up all the data. It’s all right there.”

Keep up the fantastic work, Ms. Niccum! Congratulations on being this month’s Spotlight Teacher!

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Need to Know News: Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District

Rethink Commends the Recent Special Education Decisions to Promote Quality Services and Supports.

Last week a unanimous decision was handed down by the court providing increased opportunities for students with disabilities. In Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a higher standard of education for children with disabilities. Chief Justice Robert’s written opinion contained strong words:

“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts wrote. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”

In Texas there has been significant discussion around the so-called cap that implied that Texas schools should maintain an 8.5% or below qualification for special education. Given that the national average is approximately 13% this low eligibility cap is problematic. Earlier this month it was announced that this arbitrary cap is being removed.

Since its inception, Rethink has been committed to the assumption that with effective, evidence-based instruction children with disabilities can make progress and achieve their highest potential. It is with great positivity that we now have the Supreme Court demonstrating this shared belief and Texas making a commitment to serve all students in need of special education services and supports.

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Shifting the Professional Learning Model to Improve Teacher Retention

An extraordinary shift is upon us in the field of education. Students are accessing information and demonstrating their capacity to learn differently. They are learning and using skill sets far different from past generations to prepare for life outside of the classroom. Indeed the fast-pace of change regularly revolutionizes the skills needed for adult success. The landscape for students is changing , and the landscape of what we ask of educators who teach and prepare students for the world and the workforce is also changing.

Our collective expectations of teachers extend way beyond organizing lessons and measuring student performance. We expect teachers to cater to individual student needs, use different learning techniques, incorporate technology and cater to the social and emotional needs of students.

These expectations are common threads for teachers who vary in practice and disposition. They also make the teaching profession much more difficult. Although teachers do a great job helping students succeed, the intricate demands and lack of professional development on the job has led to a decrease in the amount of teachers who choose to remain in the profession after their first five years.

Why do teachers leave the profession?

There are a variety of reasons for natural attrition in jobs including relocation, family matters, different schedules, salaries or distaste for management. The decision to leave for others stems from issues or concerns they feel cannot be resolved. According to the National Education Association, this includes:

    • A lack of support
    • Unfair demands and mandates
    • A lack of assistance with student discipline
    • Underfunded programs and low salaries
  • A lack of influence or respect at work

 

The National Center for Education Statistics identified 7.7% of teachers left the profession at the end of the 2012-13 school year with this number on the rise. The same study found that 46% of those who left the profession said opportunities for professional development in their new position outside of education were better. Although the answer seems simple, increasing the quality and access to professional development for teachers continues to be a challenge .

How do we retain more quality teachers?

Many districts are responding to this data and other statistics by reshaping the professional learning experience. Professional development is also becoming more relevant, personalized and useful. When translated on a larger scale, districts can use research to not only to improve teaching practices, but to increase teacher retention and buy-in for the profession. Developing custom professional development options for teachers with different skills, levels of experience and areas of interest can help increase teacher commitment to learning communities and help them take an interest in giving back to those communities.

Taking professional learning to the next level

Educators should always have a choice in how and what they choose to learn. This can include classroom modeling and access to different learning activities, platforms and online learning communities. Social media channels such as Twitter can also be a great tool for encouraging discussion among educators. Other methods to engage teachers in professional learning opportunities can include summer learning institutes and year-long campaigns to help them find joy in implementing new practices.

Of course some teachers still enjoy learning in a traditional lecture environment, but the important thing to consider is their right to choose the most accommodating option for them.

A common framework to keep in mind is one developed by  , which follows four stages:

  • Engagement – Ensures teachers have buy-in to what they are learning.
  • Learning – The environment content is delivered in, which helps move teachers from knowledge acquisition to application.
  • Support – Ongoing refinement of skills into successful practices that lead to improvement in teaching and student learning.
  • Measurement – The data collection on the teacher’s practice or commonly known as educator evaluations.

This four-stage framework can be applied to any professional learning opportunity and will help keep teachers on track when they embark on their own learning path. The hope is that with enough reflection on the benefits of more opportunities for teachers, we’ll start to encourage the best educators to stay in the profession with more support and room to grow.

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Strategies for Instructional Coaching

Experience tells us, and the field of andragogy confirms, that adults learn differently from children. Andragogy refers to the adult learning theory and was coined by American educator Malcolm Knowles. Instructional coaches need to employ principles of andragogy as they support teachers in improving their practice.

The four principles of adult learning are:

  • Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  • Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.
  • Adults want to learn about subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.
  • Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

How do these principles apply to coaching teachers? It’s simple. According to the Annenberg Foundation for Education Reform, “effective instructional coaching encourages collaborative, reflective teaching practice.” For example, if a teacher organizes a lesson a successful coach can help the teacher reflect on strengths and areas that need improvement. The best coaches offer guidance and resources related to teaching the subject or improving the delivery of lessons in a way that aims to tackle challenges in the classroom. An effective coach should also help teachers reflect on what they’ve learned during evaluations and help them apply it to their work with students.

It is equally important for teachers to use data to inform their practice. Data is a useful tool for understanding student challenges and identifying areas in need of focus. Sometimes isolating the right areas of focus can be difficult for teachers. In those instances, it is wise for the instructional coach – to support teachers to self-identify a focus area. The University of Kansas’ Center for Research on Learning provides a framework for coaches and teachers to decide where to start. It’s called “The Big Four.” These four focus areas include classroom management, content, instruction and assessment for learning.

Coaches can use these four focus areas to help teachers choose where to start. Support can expand to sharing data and monitoring progress with them over time. Applying current research in the area of focus as well as modeling research-validated instructional strategies for teachers is also helpful.

Five strategies to help translate research into practice from Jim Knight’s book, Instructional coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction:

  • Clarify: read, write, talk
  • Synthesize different sources
  • Break it down
  • See it through teachers’ (and students’) eyes – What does this look like in the classroom?

Finally, just as teachers should reflect on their area of focus, instructional coaches should reflect on their experience too.

We hope these strategies help guide your experiences helping teachers succeed.

Good luck and happy coaching!

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Why Self-Directed Professional Development Matters for Educators

As the role and function of schools continue to change, so do duties and responsibilities of educators. Educators are often asked to help students succeed amid challenges including growing class sizes, new tests, new rules and new evaluation measures.

Educators must choose appropriate resources to help prepare for the challenges they will face during their career. Effective professional development provides educators training in meaningful and important aspects of their job. Through active engagement in professional development educators improve the quality of classroom instruction, grow professionally and strengthen their practice.

Professional development sometimes carries a stigma. It is viewed as inconvenient, not comprehensive enough and often ineffective. Indeed much of the professional development in education has been deemed costly and ineffective. Single-day professional development opportunities limit the ability of educators to ask important follow-up questions, access knowledge banks after sessions or learn in-depth strategies and skills that take time to master.

Unlike traditional professional development, self-directed professional development opens learning possibilities for educators in any place and at any time. It allows educators to acquire a wide variety of skills and gain access to training outside the classroom at their own pace.

Why is self-directed PD important?

  • Educators gain access to quality instructional materials, similar to receiving training from master teachers or high-quality instructional coaches. Video modeling is particularly effective in this professional development model.
  • Educators can review difficult concepts without fear of running out of time or not grasping complicated concepts.
  • Related service providers, who often don’t have access to classroom educator professional development, can discover new and inventive ways to help students with special or social/behavioral needs. This comes in handy for those who implement behavioral intervention plans or serve students with Individualized Education Programs.
  • Self-directed PD can solve challenges associated with integrated co-teaching. Teachers can learn highly effective techniques and use them to strengthen classrooms where students with special needs learn alongside general education students.
  • Teaching assistants can access professional development as they are often excluded from professional development provided to credentialed staff but are pivotal in supporting students with disabilities.

Time is a valuable commodity for educators. Self-directed PD may just part of the answer. When progress is measurable and professional development produces effective outcomes, it is meaningful.

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Literacy for All

Read Across America Day is just a few weeks away! On March 2nd, Dr. Seuss’ birthday, thousands of schools, libraries, and community centers will bring together kids, teens and books, which is exciting because we all know how important literacy is in relation to adult success.

Part of an educational experience is exposure to books and literature and instruction in reading and writing, but many students with disabilities do not receive effective literacy instruction. Per the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), “Many children, including children with learning disabilities, do not learn to read in the first grade because they lack the basic readiness skills or the school’s method is not appropriate for them. They may be allowed to fail for two or three years without effective intervention. Unless these children are identified early and appropriate instruction provided they may be passed along in school until basic reading instruction is no longer available.”

Literacy has been targeted as in-need of improvement and future focus, particularly for those with more significant disabilities.Teachers need support to ensure all students benefit from literacy instruction and Rethink is here to help with supplemental supports which are incredibly helpful in addressing the diverse needs of students in a classroom. Be sure to check the Rethink Academic Curriculum Library, which includes differentiated lessons plans and teaching resources to support students with disabilities.

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