1. 7 Elementary / Secondary Education


1.1. Preparing for Kindergarten: Ideas for Families

Tip Sheet

Catherine Saul, B.A.Sc.

A child going to school for the first time is a milestone for every family.  When a child has special needs, the process of getting ready is even more important!  Everyone (the child with autism, their family, school staff and other students) benefits from good planning, clear information and some important activities in the months before a child begins his or her journey through the education system.

 

Planning

As kindergarten approaches, parents are encouraged to explore what is available in their area. Most child-care settings offer kindergarten programs.  Some children are involved in individual intervention or private therapy. School boards may offer full day kindergarten or all day/alternate day programs. Some schools have before- and after-school programs on site.  Some do not.  What is the best option?

Each child with autism and their family is unique.  What works best for one family may not be a good fit for another.  Take time to think about your child’s entire school day when planning the transition to kindergarten. What are your before and after school needs? What are your transportation needs? What is your child’s ability to adjust to change? Does he or she require a more gradual transition to school? If your child receives programming at home or therapy services, how will these fit in with school attendance? Can the school board provide transportation if you choose a modified school schedule for your child? Transportation procedures are locally determined and may change year to year therefore it is best to be informed about transportation guidelines prior to making any decisions.  

Transition to school is a significant step in your child’s life. It is important to make your own decisions.  Gather as much information as you can. Visit programs you are considering and start today.  The more time everyone has to get ready, the more likely this important transition will go smoothly.  Most early childhood or early intervention programs begin planning with families a whole year before school begins.

Many school boards have developed transition to school calendars or brochures. Ask your child’s school for information they have about transition to school for children with special needs.

A key part of planning the transition to school is to familiarize your child with the new environment. As your child’s transition plan is being developed, discuss ways of getting your child comfortable with the school prior to starting kindergarten.

An important part of preparing a child for kindergarten is practice being in a group setting. These opportunities can be provided in an early childhood setting that follows a predictable and organized schedule of activities and teaches daily routines and expectations in the classroom and on the yard. A child who has attended a preschool program has had the chance to learn to:

 

  • Do some activities on their own
  • Follow instructions
  • Participate in some classroom routines (circle time, snack, waiting in line)
  • Tolerate 20 (or more) other little people in the same room

 

The child who has learned these important skills is much more likely to be successful in kindergarten than one who has not.   Many preschool service providers support children with autism in an inclusive setting:  nursery school, child-care centre, drop-in or Early Years Centre, summer camp or a private home program. 

Sharing Information

Families know their children best.  An opportunity to meet with school board staff, share information about your child and create a transition plan is a key component of preparing for kindergarten. Providing a clear picture of your child allows school staff to better prepare for welcoming your child into kindergarten. Information to share with the school includes:

 

  • Your child’s strengths and needs
  • Diagnostic and medical information, including any special equipment your child uses
  • Skills your child has developed and what you have found helpful in teaching your child
  • Your child’s favourite activities, likes and dislikes and how to calm your child when he or she is upset, sad or fearful

 

Families who are uncomfortable sharing a diagnosis or describing their child’s needs risk that the school will not be prepared to properly support their child.  Parents may be tempted to just wait and see how well their child can adjusts on their own but they must avoid this approach when starting school.  This is unfair to a child with unique needs that usually become quite apparent within the first few days or weeks of school. At this point, staff and resources have been allocated and it is often too late to arrange additional support.

Collaboration and co-operation are keys to successful meetings and transitions.  The more information everyone shares, the better equipped everyone can be.

Classroom Supports

Many kindergarten teachers will have some experience having a child with autism in their classroom.  School personnel supporting a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder have access to both in school and school board services. The types of services and accessibility of these services, varies from one school board to another. At the school level, the teacher can access the school resource teacher, who can pursue involvement of other professionals within the school board or through local service providers. 

When planning your child’s transition to school, it is important to discuss how preschool service providers can share their knowledge of your child and help support this important transition. Service providers are often willing to visit the classroom to share their experiences and success. Although actual assignment of support personnel is often not done until closer to school starting, parents are encouraged to ask about supports the school is planning to provide as early as possible, providing ample time to prepare.

Classmates

Students in an inclusive classroom will need information too, about how they might be helpful to a classmate who may need more supports or may have additional needs.  Many children’s books on the topic of disabilities and inclusion have been extremely helpful.  Specific coaching about how to encourage play, language or other skills can help other students play a meaningful role in interacting with and including a child with special needs. Be specific regarding the type of information about your child the school is permitted to share with classmates. At the kindergarten level, there is often no need to discuss the actual diagnosis, as this means very little to four year olds. The most important information to share is what children can do and say to support their peer with additional needs.

Challenges

Sometimes, despite the best planning possible, there are surprises and upset.  Ongoing communication and open discussion will go a long way to resolving most issues.  Talk to your child’s teacher, share your observations and concerns and plan what needs to be done, as a team.

Key words:  Preschool, Transition, Inclusion, Education, Kindergarten, Advocacy

References: York Region Early Intervention Services; Transition to School package


 

 

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.2. Strategies for Effective Home/School Communication

Tip Sheet

By Leslie Broun, M.Ed., ASD Consultant 

Communication between a student's home and school can have a significant impact on his school program, the on-going development of skills and on the relationship between parents and teaching staff. Many parents report that they wait anxiously to read the communication book at the end of the day and that their emotional state can be considerably influenced by its content.

 

  • As soon as possible, at the beginning of the school year, the principal, teacher, teaching/educational assistant and parent should meet to discuss and agree on the parameters for home/school communication with due consideration given to format, information to be included both from school and home, as well as the time constraints of all parties.
  • At school, the classroom teacher is responsible for the content of home/school communication. In some situations, a teaching/educational assistant, under the direction of the teacher, may do the reporting or guide the student through the process.
  • It is important for the teacher to write in the book at least once per week to update the family on the student’s activities and progress. Some teachers may prefer a weekly phone call.
  • Generally, a parent wants to know about the activities in which their child participated during the day, as this information can be used to engage their child in communication and/or give the family topics for conversation at the dinner table, such as:    
    • Which activities the student participated in during the day
    • New or improved demonstration of skills
    • Socialization with peers
    • Songs, stories, videos, thematic units
  • School staff will want to know if the student had a good sleep and got off to a good start that morning. This may influence his or her performance during the school day. News about special events and activities provides topics for communication, as well as literacy skill development activities.
  • Use this system to celebrate successes both at home and at school.  This is an important and positive experience for all involved. 
  • Both teachers and parents need to be sensitive to how messages may be perceived. Small things, such as pen pressure, capital letters or large script can convey anger. The communication book is not the place to carry on a difficult conversation. A person-to-person meeting is usually the best way to deal with any difficulties.

 

Health Issues

Some children have serious health issues, such as seizures, about which parents need information every day. Parameters for reporting must be clearly outlined. Collaboration between parent and school is critical: Decide on a way to report on health-related issues that is efficient for both home and school.

Reporting Behavioural Difficulties

 

  • Parents find it difficult and disheartening to receive a daily listing of their child's misdeeds. Most parents are only too well aware of the behavioural difficulties their child may experience. It is unnecessary to report daily incidents of non-compliance, off-task behaviour, etc. if these are a typical component of the child's behavioural profile.
  • Guidelines for reporting significant behavioural issues need to be clearly established with the principal, teacher, teaching/educational assistant and parent.
  • Occasionally, significant behavioural incidents do occur and must be reported. The communication book is not the forum for sharing this kind of information. The principal decides how this information is to be shared and often assumes this important role.

 

Tips for Setting Up a Successful Home/School Communication System

 

  • Involve the student in creating the system. It might be a notebook or binder. Students can be partners in preparing the pictures and content. This gives the student a sense of ownership and responsibility for the process.
  • Often, the job of writing in the communication book is left until the end of the day. However, by relating the student's visual schedule to the daily home reporting process and recording periodically throughout the day, both the schedule and communication with parents are reinforced. The preparation and maintenance of the communication book can be a valuable component of the student’s literacy program.
  • When possible, pictures of the student involved in school activities can provide the student with an excellent stimulus tool for information retrieval and communication. Importing digital pictures to a Word document is a simple process.
  • School boards usually have very clear policies about e-mail communication between home and school. Generally, it is not encouraged or permitted. Forwarding or replying to a message can alter original content, making all parties vulnerable. If you do not know your board’s policy, find out.

 

A guiding thought: What if a student’s home/school communication book fell off the bus and was found by a stranger? Would the child’s or the family’s dignity or privacy be compromised?

Always consider the ultimate purpose of home/school communication: We are reporting for students who, because of the nature of their disability, cannot do this for themselves.

 

Keywords:  Education, Tips for Parents, Tips for Teachers, Instruction, Teaching Strategies, Communication

 


 

 

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.3. Understanding the Role of the Educational Assistant

Joyce Mounsteven, Ph.D., ASD and Education Consultant              

Educational assistants are hired by school boards to provide, under the direction of the teacher, additional support to students in the classroom or the school. It is important that, as a parent, you understand the scope of this role and what is involved in allocating an educational assistant to a classroom.

Team Membership

The educational assistant is a member of your child’s educational team and as such may be asked for input into setting goals or for commenting on progress towards the Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals. It is not the role of the educational assistant to set up a programme or goals for your child – this is the role of the teacher. The attendance of the educational assistant at team meetings is at the principal’s discretion. You may request their participation if you feel that this would be important for the decisions that are to be made.

Communication

Although the educational assistant may be delegated the responsibility of daily communication with the family, it is the teacher’s responsibility to approve the content of the communication and to have the ongoing communication regarding a student’s programme and services, including academic updates and progress reports. Communication with the educational assistant is limited to pertinent information that could affect a student’s day (e.g. missed breakfast, slept poorly, will be picked up for an appointment, etc.). It is not the role of the educational assistant to provide parents with an academic update or progress report.

Allocation of Educational Assistants

Educational assistants are members of a union and as such are placed in schools based on seniority. This may result in an educational assistant being placed in a position requiring training in the specific needs of the students they are being asked to support.  As a parent, you can ask the teacher about the training that is available to the educational assistant. It is, however, the responsibility of the principal to arrange any training he/she feels is necessary.  The number of educational assistants assigned to a school is based on a review of the needs within the entire school board. Responsibilities assigned to an educational assistant within a school are based on the needs of the school as a whole and may vary over the course of the year as these needs change.

Supervision and Evaluation

The educational assistant is under the direction of the teacher. Performance evaluation and supervision of their work are the responsibility of the principal. Some school boards have a formal process for on-going evaluation of educational assistants but this is not standardized across the province.

Key Roles

The educational assistant serves a myriad of functions throughout the school day and can be an invaluable asset in the running of a smooth and effective classroom. Some of the ways in which an educational assistant can support the teacher are:

 

  • Preparing visual charts and reminders for either individual students or for the entire class to use
  • Priming (preparing) students for upcoming events so that they can make an easier transition to the next activity or location
  • Prompting students when they require some additional assistance and fading prompts as soon as the student is ready to complete a task more independently
  • Supervising students in both structured and unstructured settings
  • Re-teaching material the student requires more time to learn or that needs to be broken down into smaller chunks (under the direction of the teacher)
  • Facilitating interaction with peers and encouraging friendships with classmates
  • Assisting with personal care as outlined in the IEP (e.g. washroom routines, eating, etc.)

 

The scope of the support and services required by the students must be carefully planned so that the goal of increased independence is always foremost in people’s minds.

In some settings, the role of the educational assistant has shifted from one of providing assistance as needed to one of dependence.  This can become a barrier to inclusion and to independence. It is very important to be aware of the roles that are not helpful in moving a student towards independence. These include:

 

  • Taking on the role of parent (this can sometimes happen when a parent employs an educational assistant outside of school time for home support)
  • Becoming the student’s ‘best friend’ or ‘hovering’ over the student – constantly being at a student’s side can significantly impede his or her interaction with peers
  • Becoming the student’s voice – not allowing time for the student to make independent choices or speaking for them
  • Providing too many prompts, too often thereby severely impacting skill development. Spending all of their time with one student resulting in a student’s inability to work with anyone but ‘their’ assistant

 

Each teacher/EA team will develop their own unique working style to reflect their shared skill set and the unique strengths and challenges of the students. As a parent, it is recommended that you meet with the teacher and the educational assistant as a team so that you are fully aware of how their roles blend and how you will communicate with them as a team.

 

Keywords: Advocacy, Classroom, Education, Educational Assistant


 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.4. Preparing for a Successful School Meeting

Sources: Chapman, Randy Ten Tips for Improving Parent Participation in IEP Meetings. Mauro, Terri. Before You Go to an IEP Meeting. About.com (no date), http://specialchildren.about.com/od/ieps/bb/beforeIEP.htm. Moir, Lindsay. Lindsay’s List: 10 Tips for Parents. Comhnadh Consulting. (no date), www.oacrs.com. The Right Question Project, Inc. A Constructive Mean to Advocate for your Family.  2001.

Review Documentation 

  • Look at the current Individual Education Plan (IEP), Behaviour Safety Plan (BSP) Report Card and any other documentation that you have received from the school
  • Review your child’s recent evaluations and assessments. If the school hasn’t provided you with copies, be sure to ask for them prior to any meeting.
  • Review notes from previous meetings (within the last year), as well as copies of the IEP, BSP and Report Card to see what changes or progress has been made. 

Prepare Your Questions & Concerns 

  • Make a list of questions you want to ask at the meeting.  Be aware of the difference between open (requires more explanation) or closed (yes or no answer questions) ended questions, and structure your questions in a way that is most likely to get you the type of answer you are looking for (i.e. instead of asking “Are you incorporating recommendations from our OT for his sensory diet into his day?” ask “Can you give me some examples of things you do daily that meet his sensory needs as per the recommendation from the OT?”
  • Make a list of your concerns, then see if you can break them into 3-4 manageable categories or topics; and then prioritize the points
  • Make a list of at least three things the school is doing well, as it is wise to provide them with positive feedback

  • If you need more room to express your points, create a document separate from your agenda that can be photocopied and handed out to everyone at the meeting. The document should summarize your suggestions and concerns.  Be sure to use bullet points, so that the document doesn’t overwhelm. Also, be sure to cite clear examples from within the past year, and the relevant education legislation 

Note Attendees 

  • To be well prepared, review the guest list to be informed of who will be present at the meeting. So, if it is a large group that includes both school staff and school board personnel, or a smaller more intimate team meeting, with just your child’s immediate school support team, you can be prepared accordingly.  When developing your questions, keep in mind who will be present.
  • If you are unfamiliar with the procedures for the meeting, whether it be an Identification Placement Review Committee meeting (IPRC), an IEP meeting, or a team meeting, check your board website for a “Parents Guide to Special Education,” as it clearly outlines the purpose and general contents of such a meeting
  • Prepare an agenda to share with the others at the meeting. This will help to keep them on track and ensure that you cover off all your points. Be sure to prioritize this list and put your most pressing points at the top.
  • Know the relevant educational legislation as it pertains to what you are discussing with the school. Much of this information can be found on the Ministry of Education website, or on your school board’s website in the Special Education Section 

Take Someone to the Meeting with You 

  • If possible, both parents should attend the meeting
  • It can also be helpful to have an advocate or support person present (family case worker, respite worker, educational advocate, etc.)
  • Many parents find it intimidating to “walk into a room of suits,” so try to bring someone along to the meeting so you are not alone. Also, a second pair of ears can be helpful later when reviewing the meeting with your partner or support workers for your child
  • Be sure to meet with the person who is attending with you before the meeting to ensure you both are “on the same page.” Also, they should make notes of the meeting. In the event that  one gets emotional or muddled, the other can step in and clarify
  • Review your agenda (if you choose to make one) with the person or people you bring along to the meeting so they are familiar with your goals
  • As a parent, you have the right to bring  individuals to the meeting that have knowledge and expertise that could assist you
  • If you have asked a professional to attend the meeting with you, be sure you know what their role will be before you get into the meeting. You want to be able to introduce them to the school team with a purpose of having them there. At the time when you invite them, discuss with them what their role will look like, and be sure you both have a clear understanding of those expectations
  • Also, think about seating arrangements in the meeting; if you want to make eye contact, sit across from one another; or if you want  a gentle nudge or hand squeeze, have the person sit beside you 

Meeting Scheduling 

  • Be sure it is scheduled at a time that is convenient for everyone (both the school team and your team)
  • You have a right to have a meeting rescheduled if the time the school initially suggests is not convenient for you
  • Be sure there is sufficient time scheduled for the things you want to cover with them, if there isn’t, request a longer meeting. You may even have to schedule it at a different time, or arrange a follow-up meeting to discuss the less pressing issues 

During the Meeting 

  • Ask all of the questions you prepared. It might be helpful to prepare an agenda to share with the others at the meeting to help them keep on track and ensure you are able to cover off all your points.
  • Identify your “allies” in the room, (they may be the people giving a gentle smile, or nodding along with your point). Identify these people, make eye contact with them, and ask them questions to get their opinion.  Don’t be afraid to ask a question you know the answer to, but you do it for the benefit of others at the table (i.e. around restraint policy, so the proper answer can be documented in meeting notes).
  • Educational professionals often speak their own language (using acronyms etc.). If you don’t understand something that is being said, ask for clarification, or make a note to look it up later
  • You do not have to agree with suggestions other members of the team recommend, nor do you have to sign any documentation if you are not comfortable with what it says (i.e. at the IPRC, and you disagree with the placement for next year), you are allowed time to go home and think about it
  • Reinforce good ideas.  If someone at the meeting shares a good idea (your team or the school team), acknowledge what a great idea it is, and be sure it is captured and explored
  • Be sure the meeting remains focused on benefiting your child. Sometimes issues around staffing, budget restrictions, etc. can overshadow the key point that the meeting is about your child and their success at school. If you feel the meeting is getting off track, always bring it back to your child and reinforce your child’s well-being as the focus
  • Keep notes of “next steps” agreed upon, or have someone you brought with you to the meeting, record them. This will ensure that you have a record.  It is also permissible to ask for a photocopy of the notes the school staff has taken, so you have a record of what they recorded and what you recorded.
  • Know when to call it a day and don’t be afraid to do so.  Often when we are frustrated at the end of a meeting, we can make rash decisions as a way of “getting out of there.” Most regret that decision later.  If you and your team, or the school team is visibly frustrated, then likely nothing productive will be accomplished. Suggest a date to continue the discussion and help to facilitate a few next steps that everyone can agree on, and work on in preparation for a solution-focused meeting next time 

Keep your cool 

  • Try not to take comments about your child personally, and if you do, try to keep those emotions as controlled as possible
  • It is permissible for you to ask for a washroom break if you notice you are getting too emotional and need to step back and regroup for a moment
  • Look back to your notes if you are getting off track, or getting muddled in your thinking, you prepared all those notes for a reason. Use them.
  • It is very important to keep the focus of the meeting on positive outcomes for your child. Don’t let your emotions, or reactions to things the school says, take away from the focus of the meeting. Emotional reactions can be damaging to school and/or parent relationships 

Re-examine Documents 

  • When you get home review the notes you have taken from the meeting, and follow up with an e-mail or letter if there is anything from your agenda that you feel you didn’t get to clarify or explain properly
  • Ask any lingering questions either by scheduling another meeting or through writing (e-mail or letter)
  • When the documentation from the meeting comes out (i.e. the IEP or BSP), compare it with your notes from the meeting and be sure that all points agreed upon are included, and clearly outlined
  • You have the right to request revisions to such documents, and these revisions need to be done in a timely fashion
  • Should any revisions be required, be sure to make your request in writing
 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.5. Individual Education Plan (IEP) Meeting

Sources: Durham District School Board. Parents’ Guide to Special Education. Whitby, Ontario., 2009. www.ddsb.durham.edu.on.ca/Pdf/Spec_Ed_Plan/parent_guide_2009.pdf. Durham District School Board. Special Education Plan. Whitby Ontario. 2009 – 2010. www.ddsb.durham.edu.on.ca/Pdf/Spec_Ed_Plan/Special_Education_Plan_Oct_ 2009.pdf.

IEP stands for Individual Education Plan

An IEP is a written plan describing the special education program for a particular student.  It is a document that is written by the classroom teacher in consultation with the resource teacher, principal, and the parent.  It is a working document that reflects the current program and change as needed throughout the year.

IEPs are regulated under the Education Act and Regulation 181/98.

Each IEP describes:

 

  • The strengths and needs (instructional, processing, etc.) of the student
  • The program and services established to meet the student’s needs
  • How the program and services will be delivered (strategies)
  • How the student’s progress will be measured

 

Be sure that your IEP contains SMART goals:

 

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

 

Be sure that the goals are specific and realistic.

For example: To say Jonny needs to achieve 80 per cent in math, is not specific and may not be realistic. 

It would be better to write: In math, Jonny is currently receiving 50 per cent and with assistance he achieves 60 per cent, so our goal for Jonny is that by the end of the year, he reaches 70 per cent. This would be a more realistic goal.

 An IEP is not:

 

  • A daily lesson plan of all activities the student will take part in
  • A list of every piece of information the student will learn
  • A permanent document – it can be and should be updated regularly

 

Who receives an IEP?

 

  • All students identified as being exceptional by an IPRC (Identification, Placement Review Committee) are entitled to have an IEP.
  • Any student who doesn’t have a recorded exceptionality, but the school suggests that the development IEP is necessary.
  • If a child is showing need for, or is already receiving additional support and programming, parents can request an IEP.
  • Parents and Teachers can begin the IEP process while waiting for the IPRC meeting to take place.

 

What to do when you get your IEP?

 

  • Take time to read it through, thoroughly.
  • Ensure that identification information (address, etc.) is correct.
  • Walk through each section ensuring that you are aware of the information and how it pertains to your child
  • Consult with someone at the school or community agency if you are unsure about any information in the IEP.

 

Understanding your child’s IEP

Accommodations: This is the “HOW” of an IEP – how will they teach it, or assess it, and how does the environment look, while he/she is doing it? The Ministry curriculum expectations stay the same as for non-accommodated students

Alternative program: Any program that is not defined by the Ministry curriculum. This can include such programs as Social Skills, Life Skills, Fine/Gross motor, Behaviour, etc.

Alternative Report Card: This is an additional report attached to the report card which outlines the success of all non-Ministry provided programs.

This will state the learning expectations and achievement for all alternative programs.

Annual program goal: The goal for the entire school year. The goal should be broad but still achievable in the applicable school year.

Assessment accommodations: strategies used during all formal and/or informal testing periods.

Assessment data: The most recent or relevant formal (Dr’s, Therapists, etc.) testing that applies to the student.

Assessment methods: The way in which the staff will gage achievement for that specific expectation.

Environmental Accommodations: physical changes provided in all applicable settings.

Exceptional Pupil: The education act defines an exceptional pupil as “a pupil whose behavioural, communicational, intellectual, physical, or multiple exceptionalities are such that he or she is considered to need placement in a special education program…” Students are identified according to the categories and definitions of exceptionalities provided by the Ministry of Education and Training.

Health Support Services: Any approved therapy programs, provided by an outside agency during school hours, on school property (OT/PT/SLP, etc.)

Human Resource Support: The regular classroom teacher is always attached to the child. This refers to other staffing supports provided to the student on a scheduled basis.

Individualized/Specialized Equipment: Any equipment that the school or board has purchased for the student through grant or program funds.

Instructional Accommodations: Strategies used to assist during the teaching times, both structured and unstructured.

Learning Expectations: The individual goals for this term, or portion of the year, that work towards the larger annual goal. These should be realistic, challenging and measurable goals.

Log of Parent Consultation: All contacts that involved discussion around the IEP for this school year only.

Modification: This is the “WHAT” of an IEP - what is the student learning or assessed on. These changes can be with the number of grade level expectations being reduced or the actual grade level of expectations being higher or lower.

Provincial Report Card: The standard report card which outlines achievement levels of all Ministry provided curriculum expectations.

Regular class with indirect support: the student is placed in a regular class for the entire day, and the teacher receives specialized consultative services.

Regular class with resource assistance: The student is placed in the regular class for most or all of the day, and receives specialized instruction, either individually or in a small group, and within the regular classroom by a qualified special education teacher.

Regular class with withdrawal assistance: The student is placed in the regular class and receives instruction outside the classroom for less than fifty percent of the school day, from a qualified special education teacher.

Special education class with partial integration: The student is placed by IPRC in a special education class, where the student-teacher ratio conforms to Regulation 298, section 31, for at least 50 per cent of the school day, but is integrated with a regular class for at least one instructional period daily.

Special education class full time: The student is placed by IRPC in a special education class, where the student-teacher ratio conforms to Regulation 298, section 31 for the entire school day.

Teaching Strategies: The tools used to teach/support that specific expectation

Transition Plan: For all students diagnosed with ASD (PPM 140) and students 14 years of age and older. Should outline any strategies that assist in preparing and managing transitions large and small.


1.6. The School System: FAQ

The questions listed below, about children and the school system, are addressed regularly to Autism Ontario’s staff. This document is not intended to be a comprehensive guide to helping your child navigate the school system; it is merely a tool to assist you in your journey.

For more information, please contact your local Autism Ontario Chapter office. See www.autismontario.com/Client/ASO/ao.nsf/web/OntarioMap to locate your local chapter.

This document contains the answers to: 

  1. What websites should I review or familiarize myself with that will assist my child’s integration and participation in the school system?
  2. My child just received a diagnosis of an ASD. Where do I begin? What can I do to help my child succeed in school?
  3. What are the key skills my child needs to develop and should be working towards before entering kindergarten?
  4. What do I need to do before placing my child into JK or SK?
  5. If my child is being bullied, where can I go for support?
  6. What steps can I take to ensure that the communication between me and my child’s school is effective and unobstructed?
  7. When communicating with my child’s school, what is the ideal relationship for ensuring a positive and productive working team?
  8. Where can I get a copy of my child’s school board’s Special Education Plan?
  9. Where can I find a template for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and other resources?
  10.  What is the difference between an IPRC, an IEP and an SRT?
  11. When is my child’s IEP completed, and how many times is it reviewed?
  12. Who develops my child’s IEP? What information or documents are included? Am I allowed to attend this meeting?
  13.  What do I do if I am unhappy with my child’s IPRC? Is there any recourse?
  14. What is the OSR? Who has access to my child’s file? If it contains information that is inaccurate or out of date, what can I do to have it removed?
  15. Am I permitted to request an EA (Educational Assistant) for my child?
  16. What happens if the school boundaries change and my child is scheduled to be in another catchment area next year, and has been asked to change schools?
  17. How can I find out who my child’s teacher will be for the next school year?
1. What websites should I review or familiarize myself with that will assist my child’s integration and participation in the school system? 

The following are some important websites to familiarize yourself with: 

Overview of Special Education in Ontario: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/speced.html.

Special Education Regulations in Ontario: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/regs.html.

The most important regulation that you should be familiar with is the Education Act; it can be found at the following link: http://www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/statutes/english/elaws_statutes_90e02_e.htm

Ontario Regulation 181/98 of the Education Act explains the steps taken by the Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC) to identify a student as exceptional and to decide on a placement for the exceptional student. It also describes the procedure for appealing the decisions made at the IPRC.

For a summary of this document, see “Highlights of Regulation 181/98”:

Identification and Placements of Exceptional Pupils: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/hilites.html.

Ontario Regulation 306 describes the Special Education Programs and Services. www.e-laws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_900306_e.htm

Policy/Program Memorandum No. 81 outlines the provision of Health Support Services (Speech and Language therapy, Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy) in school settings. www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/81.html.

Policy/Program Memorandum No. 140 provides guidelines to Ontario schools for incorporating methods of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) into programs for students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/140.html.

The Ministry of Education has compiled lists of frequently asked questions, one for students with an ASD (www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/autism.html) and one for special needs in general (www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/Questions_and_Answers_Parents_English.pdf ).

Your school board should have a Special Education Plan in place, which you should find on their website. Typically this is found under the section, “Parents,” or the section labeled “Special Education”. In many school boards, you will also find A Parent’s Guide to Special Education, in this section. If you have difficulty finding these documents, contact your school board directly and they will be able to tell you where to find them.

2. My child just received a diagnosis of an ASD. Where do I begin? What can I do to help my child succeed in school?

Realize that you will be your child’s best advocate throughout his or her school years. It is important that you make yourself comfortable with the terminology used by educators, and that you have a good grasp of the regulations and practices guiding special education in your area.

You should also realize that the information you gather over the years about your child, will be substantial. Below are a few tips on how to manage all the paperwork that will be coming your way: 

  • Keep a file / binder with all assessments, reports, diagnostic letters, therapy progress reports, IPRC and IEP documentation.
  • Keep a notebook to document all your contacts with the school. If you attend a meeting, keep a written record of how you have interpreted the agreements made at that meeting. Doing this will provide clarity and prevent confusion later on. Also, be sure to date meetings, telephone conversations and note who was in attendance. With this information, you will be able to more easily advocate on behalf of your child.
  • Ask for the school’s minutes of the meeting. In almost all cases, the school will be documenting everything that happens in a meeting, and every phone conversation. You are well within your rights to ask for a copy of these notes for your own records. 

3. What are the key skills my child needs to develop and should be working towards before entering kindergarten?

The Toronto District School Board has developed a list of skills children will be required to demonstrate in kindergarten. This document can be found at the following link: www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/a4.pdf, and is summarized briefly below: 

  • Choices: provide opportunities for your child to make choices at home. For example, let them make choices about such things as clothing, activities, snacks, etc.
  • Sharing: if your child is currently enrolled in a daycare or preschool program, they likely have multiple opportunities to practice sharing of toys, craft materials and space. Be sure to encourage sharing and turn-taking as much as possible.
  • New environments: provide lots of opportunities for your child to adapt to new environments, and in particular, to learn the behaviour expected in those environments. For example, when at the library, where there are new people, a child must be quiet, and there are boundaries on where they can and cannot go, etc.
  • Independent dressing: encourage your child to dress and undress themselves as independently as possible, including while they are in the washroom. Allow them to put pants on and off, coats, and cold-weather clothing. Keep a close eye on the items your child struggles with and provide extra opportunities to practice with these. Also, keep in mind that it may be best to avoid dressing them in the clothes they struggle with most during the first couple of weeks of school, at least not until they are feeling comfortable with their new environment.
  • Communicate needs: provide many opportunities for your child to communicate their needs and wants to adults (both familiar and unfamiliar), as well as peers.
  • Identification of their name: talk with your child about their name, and give them lots of opportunities to see it in print; discuss the letters, and encourage any attempts to write their name independently without help.
  • Exposure to the curriculum: expose your child to numbers, shapes, patterns, sorting, estimating, and measuring. Talk about this in everyday life. For example, ask them how many chocolate chips are on their cookie, the shape of their ice cream cone, etc.
  • Encourage imagination: provide opportunities for arts and crafts, imaginative play, and songs and rhymes. Also, provide exposure to a variety of materials and equipment such as play dough, balls, sand tables, water tables, etc.  

4. What do I need to do before placing my child into a JK or SK?

The year before your child starts JK or SK, it would be best to do the following:

One year prior: 

  • Introduce yourself and your child to the school
  • Discuss the needs of your child
  • A friend, partner or advocate may attend for support 

Registration 

  • Attend registration clinic for your school and pick up registration package
  • Create a plan for your child. This should include the various members of the school your child will be interacting with, as well as the community services that your child requires 

January / March 

  • Continue to build your plan for the child’s school year with school staff and community partners
  • Attend school information meetings
  • Plan a time to visit the school with your child 

April / May / June 

  • Visit the school to familiarize your child with the school environment, include the classroom as well as any other spaces your child will access (gym, playground, etc.).
  • Visit www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/a1.pdf for steps to take before kindergarten. 

Source: Ministry of Education. “Effective Planning for Children with Special Needs.” Planning Entry to School: A Resource Guide. 2005.Government of Ontario. August 18, 2010. www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/specialneeds.pdf.

5. If my child is being bullied, where can I go for support? 

  • As soon as possible, talk with the school staff
  • As part of the school’s bullying-prevention program, teachers should discuss bullying openly in class and help students understand the importance of respect, caring about the feelings of others, and friendship
  • Ask to see the school’s code of conduct. It sets out how students, teachers, and other members of the school community should behave towards one another
  • Ask to see the school’s bullying-prevention policy. The policy outlines what the school staff can and should do to solve the problem
  • If, after a reasonable amount of time, you are not satisfied with the school’s response, contact the school board’s supervisory officer 

Source: Ministry of Education. “Bullying: We Can All Help Stop It.” 2009. Government of Ontario. August 18, 2010. www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/bullying.pdf.

6. What steps can I take to ensure that the communication between me and my child’s school is effective and unobstructed?

Effective communication is a key component to setting your child up for success.  Providing information up front, such as recent assessment reports, will give the educators better insight into your child, and how best to interact with him or her.  It is also important to communicate any additional information, as it will help educators develop and implement the educational program.  Ensure you discuss talents and skills that you see in the home or community, as well as likes, dislikes, preferred learning styles, and reactions to various situations.

Provide opportunities to work on skills that are being taught in the classroom in the home environment as well, and offer feedback on progress to the educators - remember that without your help, educators can’t know if skills taught in the classroom are transferring to your child’s home or community experiences. 

Frequent, open communication is important.  You can accomplish this by coordinating regular meetings between yourself and your child’s school team.  You can also accomplish this by using a daily communication log that travels between home and school.  This provides teachers with the opportunity to record comments about a child’s progress, as well as, any areas of concern. It also provides the parent(s) with the opportunity to write any new information about their child, such as a bad start to the day, or how they might be feeling, and so on. Talk to other parents about communication logs that they may have used as there is no “set style.” You need to find what works best for you, your child and the teacher.

Source: Ministry of Education. “The Individual Education Plan (IEP).” A Resource Guide. 2004. Government of Ontario. August 18, 2010. www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general /elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf.

7. When communicating with my child’s school, what is the ideal relationship that should be struck to form a positive and productive working team? 
  • Maintain regular and open communication, using plain language (no jargon). 
  • Connect with the school team, as necessary, to clarify information, ensuring that you and the child understand the IEP, its connection to the Provincial Report Card, and the IEP process.
  • Request written and telephone communication notifying you of meetings of the IEP team.
  • Ask to be informed of the topics that are to be discussed at IEP meetings, and who will be in attendance
  • Confirm, in advance, that you will be given the opportunity to become involved during the development of the IEP, and to be able to specify how you’d like to be involved, and to what degree.
  • Insist that you and your child be given the opportunity for meaningful input when developing the IEP.
  • Make arrangements to be provided with a copy of the IEP, and for your child to receive a copy, if he or she is 16 years of age or older, as this is required under Regulation 181/98.
  • Get assurance that the school will check regularly with you regarding concerns that you or your child may have, or that the school may have, and ask questions if necessary to gain understanding or to get clarification. 

If this is not the relationship you have come to know with your child’s school team, speak to them about what you can do to help facilitate this.  If necessary, ask community agencies, resource workers, advocates, friends, or other experienced parents to attend meetings and help you develop and foster this relationship.  It will make a world of difference for you and your child.

Source: Ministry of Education. “The Individual Education Plan (IEP).” A Resource Guide. 2004. Government of Ontario. August 18, 2010. www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general /elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf.

8. Where can I get a copy of my child’s school board’s Special Education Plan?

The following link will take you to a Ministry of Education document providing information about each school board in Ontario, including their Special Education Plan and Special Education Guide for parents. www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/School_Board_SEPs_and_Parent_Guides_English.pdf

9. Where can I find a template for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) and other resources?

The following link will take you to a Ministry of Education website that provides a brief overview of the IEP as well as sample IEPs for a number of different exceptionalities, including Autism. www.ontariodirectors.ca/IEP-PEI/en.html

This is an additional link from the Ministry of Education regarding sample IEPs, and will actually demonstrate what the creation of your child’s IEP looks like.  You will need a user name and password to access. The username is IEPDemo and the password demo.  https://iep.edu.gov.on.ca/IEPWeb.

10. What is the difference between an IPRC, an IEP and an SRT?

An Identification and Placement Review Committee (IPRC) is composed of at least 3 people, one of whom must be a principal or a supervisory officer of the school board. The role of the IPRC is to decide whether or not a student should be identified as exceptional, to identify this exceptionality, to decide on an appropriate placement for the student, and to review the identification and placement at least once in each school year.

Parents, and students 16 years of age or older, may be present at and participate in all committee discussions about the student. Other people who may attend an IPRC meeting are: the principal of the student’s school; teaching staff, such as teachers and resource teacher; a representative of the parent or student who is16 years of age or older, to speak on their behalf and provide support; and an interpreter if required.

In writing to the principal, parents can request an IPRC. They should receive acknowledgement of this request within 15 days.

At least 10 days before the IPRC meeting, the parents will receive an invitation to attend and a written copy of all the information about the student that the chair of the IPRC has received.

In addressing the IPRC, the parents should prepare to make a case for their child. It should include the child’s strengths as well as areas of need.

Addressing the IPRC can be overwhelming and emotional, as speaking about one’s child in front of a large group of people is not a common occurrence for most parents. Solid preparation will help you overcome the uneasy feelings and increase your chances of receiving what your child needs.

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a plan outlining individual educational information, strategies and goals that must be prepared for a student within 30 school days after the student has been placed in the program or after the beginning of the new school year. Parents must be consulted in this process. An IEP will include the students strengths and areas of need (be sure to prepare your own list), results of any assessments done by school personnel or reports shared by the parents, current levels of achievement, specific educational expectations (goals will be set every reporting period, some goals will run over a longer period of time), details about specific special education programs and services, accommodations and modifications that the student will receive, and a transition plan can be included.

A School Resource Team (SRT) meeting is a meeting between school staff. This school resource team is usually comprised of the principal, the teacher, the special education resource teacher and at times, the educational assistant. Services available at the board level, such as the ABA consultant, the speech and language pathologist (SLP), and psycho-educational consultant can be asked to join the school resource team. The goal of an SRT could be to prepare for an IPRC, or to discuss a purchase of equipment through a SEA (special equipment amount) claim. Parents should be invited to all SRT meetings about their child, but it has been our experience that unless the parent specifically requests to attend, invitations have not always been forthcoming.

11. When is my child’s IEP completed, and how many times is it reviewed?

An IEP should be reviewed and updated a minimum of once per reporting period (that is, between each report card), and whenever necessary. 

An IEP should be considered a working document.  Changes to program goals, expectations, strategies, equipment, and support are to be recorded as they occur and communicated with the parents and student.

If the IEP contains only learning expectations for the first reporting period, the educator teaching that subject is responsible for recording the learning expectations being assessed in the second reporting period in the IEP; new expectations are to be communicated to the child and parents/guardians at the beginning of the second reporting period.  This also applies to the third reporting period in elementary school, as well as to non-semester secondary schools.

Source: Ministry of Education. “The Individual Education Plan (IEP).” A Resource Guide. 2004. Government of Ontario. August 18, 2010. www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general /elemsec/speced/guide/resource/iepresguid.pdf.

12. Who develops my child’s IEP? What information or documents are included? Am I allowed to attend this meeting?

Who develops my child’s IEP?

The IEP is developed by the teacher, the Special Education Resource Teacher and the parent. Input can be obtained from therapy providers, specialists, etc.

What information or documents are included?

The IEP documents: 

  • Strengths and needs of the student
  • Relevant medical diagnoses and health information
  • Relevant assessment data
  • The student’s current level of achievement
  • Accommodations needed
  • Modifications to the curriculum
  • Alternative programming
  • Annual program goals and specific learning expectations for each of the goals
  • Special education and related services provided to the student
  • Assessment strategies to measure progress toward goals
  • Documentation on parent consultation
  • For students 14 and over, a transition plan should be included. 

Am I allowed to attend the IEP meeting?

Parents should attend the IEP meeting and be actively involved in the process of developing the IEP, and not just be presented with the IEP, having had no input. They should prepare a needs statement about their child, and formulate some educational goals they want to see the school
work on.

13. What do I do if I am unhappy with my child’s IRPC? Is there any recourse?

While school boards and parent(s)/guardian(s) may agree on special education programs and services for a student without the assistance of an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC), the formal IPRC process provides a good framework for both, parent(s)/guardian(s), and school board, to ensure that the needs of the student are fully considered. In the event of an issue arising as to whether or not a student is exceptional, or which program placement is most appropriate for the student, the first step parent(s)/guardian(s) and school officials should take, is to request an IPRC meeting, as set out in Regulation 181/98 (Section 14).  

If a parent/guardian is not satisfied with the identification or placement decision regarding their child, as determined by the IPRC, there are three steps that may be followed. The parent/guardian may: 

  • Within 15 days of receipt of the IPRC decision, request a second meeting with the IRPC
  • Within 30 days of the IPRC’s decision and in writing, appeal the decision(s)  to an Appeal Board set up by the school board through the secretary of the board (who is usually the director of education)
  • If the parent does not agree with the decision after the second meeting, he or she may file a notice of appeal within 15 days of receipt of the decision.
  • And then, if desired, further appeal to the Ontario Special Education Tribunal 

Source: Ministry of Education. “Resolving Identification and Placement Issues” Procedures for Parent(s) / Guardian(s). June 27, 2007. Government of Ontario. August 18, 2010.  www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/issues.html.

14. What is the OSR? Who has access to my child’s file? And if there is information that is inaccurate or out of date, what can I do to have it removed?

The Ontario Student Record (OSR) is the record of a student’s educational progress throughout schools in Ontario. A child’s report card and personal information are stored in the OSR, which is kept at the home school office.

If your child has an identification of an exceptionality, and therefore an IEP, this information will also be included in the OSR. Additionally, any relevant assessments and medical (e.g. a diagnosis) and health related information (e.g. progress reports from occupational or physiotherapy) are stored there.

Teachers involved with your child have access to the OSR so they can learn about your child’s exceptionality, his needs and strengths, and his or her learning style. Also, with a consent form signed by the parent, psycho-educational consultants and other board staff,  can have access to the OSR. At the time when a parent signs the consent form, the length of time that these identified people have access to the file will be determined. Typically, it is for one year.

Annually and in writing, a parent should schedule an appointment with the principal to obtain access to the OSR to verify if all documentation is present, current and relevant. If a parent feels old documentation (e.g. a psycho-educational assessment that is older than three years, or a diagnosis that has been changed,) should be removed, it must be requested in writing to the principal. If documents are missing (e.g. decision statement from the IPRC), a parent should, likewise, request that it be added.  It is important that this file is up to date before the new school year starts, so the new teacher can have access to the latest educational information about your child. It is therefore suggested that the OSR files be “cleaned out” annually in early June.

Ontario Student Record Guidelines from the Ministry of Education can be found at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/curricul/osr/osr.html.

15. Am I permitted to request an EA (Educational Assistant) for my child?

A parent cannot request an EA for their child, however, they can list the various needs their child has. Having the support of an Educational Assistant is one way to address the needs a student has. Parents should share these needs with the SRT before the IPRC meets, and again at the IPRC meeting so that the placement recommendation can consider this information and make decisions appropriately.  Other ways to address the needs of the student can be through accommodations, modifications, school volunteers, classroom or upper level peers, a college student, and the Special Education Resource Teacher.

16. What happens if the school boundaries change and my child is scheduled to be in another catchment area next year, and has been asked to change schools?

Once aware of this change, a parent should fill out an optional attendance form for the current school, and provide the reasons why your child would benefit from staying at the current school. Optional attendance is only possible if the school has spaces available, and will be considered on an individual basis.  If optional attendance is not an option, then ask for a timely transition meeting between the current and the receiving staff and yourself, and organize for your child to visit the new class/school/teacher before the new school year starts.

17. How can I find out who my child’s teacher will be for the next school year?

Schools are able to give you a tentative name of the teacher for next year, usually by mid-June.  The current teacher or SERT, should go over this information with your child as part of the transition plan. A picture of the new teacher can be taken, a visit arranged, and a Social Story developed. This can be sent home, so that over the summer a parent can work with their child, which can facilitate the transition from one grade to the next.

 

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.7. I Have Autism and I Need Your Help

By Teresa Hedley, Erik Hedley

You never know what’s good and what’s bad. This was one of my father-in-law’s favourite sayings, and I find myself drawing heavily upon it as I navigate the world of autism. A moody moment? An abrupt reply? A slammed door? I’ve discovered that difficult moments can be very revealing. They can be ‘good’ and instructive if we take the time to peel back the layers and figure out ‘why’?

So, with this in mind, I took the liberty of applying the ‘bad is good’ theory to my son’s grade eight school year. It was a year that produced some very thoughtful assignments and some excellent visual work, yes, but mostly, it was the year of repeated requests for consistent communication, organization, visual support and timely feedback. It was a tough year for a child with autism.

My son and I were tempted to turn our backs on the year and move on, but we thought better of it. Why not take the bottled up frustrations and turn them into something good? Why not take the year, look at it from the perspective of a teen with autism and articulate how it felt? Self awareness, after all, is the first step toward self-advocacy. If we could express what was difficult, we could also express how to create an atmosphere that would be a better fit for a student with autism. You never know what’s good and what’s bad.

So together we talked, we jotted and we wrote. We discussed the school year and recalled the very creative, visual projects Erik worked on and really enjoyed. We also discussed what made the year such a challenging one. He was very quick to reply, and he really hit the nail on the head: there was a lot of talking and it was hard to know what to do and how to do it. The process was very difficult to follow. 

Autism is often accompanied by anxiety. Anxiety arises from not knowing what to expect and projecting what 'might happen'. The more that is known - in advance - the lower the anxiety levels. Managing autism relies on providing structure, predictability and consistency. This is precisely where things 'caved in' this past year. Anxiety levels were very high and this spilled over at home. It was a difficult year for Erik and indeed for his 'home scaffolding'.

Given that autism appears to be on the rise - one in fifty-five boys now and this is based on 2008 data - we as special educators really have to get the methodology right for our exceptional kids. Fortunately, what is good for the exceptional population is good for all learners.

In Erik's response to me, he also hit the nail on the head regarding all three cognitive differences inherent in autism: central coherence (not being able to see the big picture and instead being side-tracked by the fascinating small stuff), theory of mind (assuming we all have similar thoughts and not being able to see things from another's perspective, also known as 'mind blindness') and executive function (finding it tricky to organize, synthesize, prioritize, manage time and so forth). All three of these cognitive differences were challenged this year given the mis-match between learning and teaching styles.

What we came up with is a list of what works and what is needed to reach kids with autism. The thoughts and perspectives are Erik's. I guided him with the structure and the writing process. He is very straight- forward, and one can sense this honesty throughout. I helped him shape his thoughts into something that is coherent and instructive. So, it is a mother and son effort and a bit of a catharsis at that!

For each point, we have jotted down the situation in italics, how it feels from Erik's perspective, and what is effective – indeed, 'best practices'. 

Erik and I sent this letter, attached, to our local school board so that the ASD perspective could be shared with district teachers. Our aim is to help exceptional learners be the best they can be. This requires an understanding of the unique perspective of students with ASD. If our difficult school year and its follow up make a difference, that would be a very good thing.

You never truly know what is good and what is bad.

Teresa Hedley is a mother of three, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. She is also a teacher with a special education background. She currently works as a Parent Autism Resource Consultant for Emerging Minds, an Ottawa multidisciplinary practice serving children and youth, many of whom are diagnosed with autism. Teresa will be joining the OCDSB Special Education Advisory Committee in the fall as a representative for Autism Ontario/Ottawa.

Erik Hedley is a hard-working teen who enjoys travel and exploration, working outdoors, cottage life, swimming, skating, skiing, all sorts of computer games and old-fashioned board games, too! He will be starting high school in the fall.

------------------------------------------
 
Erik's Letter

Dear Mr. ______and Mr._______,

One of my goals this year is self-advocacy. I am going to use it now.

I think you know that I have autism. I need your help.

I am leaving the school soon, but more children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will be coming to the school. I am writing this so that you know how they might feel. They need you to see things from their perspective. They will be smart kids. You just need to know the best way to teach them. I need you to pass along my message.

Remember the Temple Grandin movie my class saw this year? We learned that Temple Grandin thinks in pictures. I do, too.

I liked seeing that film because I really liked seeing all of the things that Temple can do inside her head. I can also do some interesting things inside my head.

I can see little details that a lot of people don’t see. I can see when things change and I can see exactly what is different. To me this is really amazing!

I can memorize pictures. Sometimes I can see every page of a photo book inside my head. I know what is on each page, how the pictures are arranged, the background colour and style and the order of the pages. I thought everyone could do this but my family says, “No, this is an Erik thing.”

I have a good sense of direction. I usually know where I am and where other things are pretty quickly. My family calls me our Erik Positioning System – E.P.S..

Now I am going to tell you about the things that are hard for me. I will try to tell you how things feel from my perspective. After that I will tell you how teachers can help me. When you see the word ‘you’ from now on, it means ‘my teacher’.

Going into a classroom and not knowing what the plan is going to be is hard for meWhen you start talking without a plan, I feel nervous because I don’t know how long this will go on. I can hardly concentrate because I am wondering what will come next. I know that you use an outline for your staff meetings. You would feel lost without an agenda. That’s how I feel.

1. I need a plan written on the board.

2. I need to know what work we will be doing, about how long we have for each part, and what comes next.

3. I need to know when things are due.

This can all be in point form. When I was younger, teachers did this for the class with pictures.

Listening to a lot of words is hard for me. Sometimes I feel like a computer that is clicked too many times. You know when you see the screen go grey and the title ‘not responding’? That is how I feel. It is too much information coming in. I can’t think that quickly. I feel like my brain is shutting down and maybe you see me ‘not responding’, too. I feel very worried.

4. I need you to slow down and speak clearly.

5. I need direct and concrete language.

6. I need outlines for the important topics.

This way I can absorb the new information at my speed.

Copying a lot of work from the board is hard for me. I feel dizzy lifting my head up and down. My hand gets tired writing a lot of words. When you talk at the same time it is way too hard. I am not responding, my hand hurts and my head is dizzy. I am not learning.

7. If it is a detailed topic, I need notes or an outline written out.

8. I like pictures and diagrams. I think in pictures.

9. My desk needs to be facing the board and not sideways to the board.

When you ask us to write jot notes about the main ideas, this is hard for me. This is because I don’t always know what the main idea is. There is an expression that says, “He couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” I think that is like me. I notice the interesting details but I can’t figure out the whole message. So, when you ask me to write jot notes about new and hard topics and you ask me to figure out the main idea, it is nearly impossible for me.

10. I need an outline of the material written in your words. You could leave blanks

 and I could fill them in. Maybe you could circle or highlight key words.

11. I need you to show me how to write jot notes by giving me an outline and examples.

Because I have a hard time knowing what is important, it is hard for me to study for a test when there are so many notes and so many chapters. I feel like I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what we will have to do with the topics on the test.

12. I need study guides or practice worksheets.

13. I need to know what is important.

14. I need to know what I will have to do with the topics.

Sometimes I think you know what I am thinking in my head. I think you must know when I need the instructions again or when I am stuck, so I wait for you to come to me. Now I know that you probably don’t know what I’m thinking. My mom always says to me, “I’m not a mind reader. How could I know what you’re thinking?”

So that we are both thinking the same thing,

15. I need instructions written out.

16. I need things broken down into steps.

17. I need examples of what we are doing.

18. I need rubrics about what you expect before the assignment.

19. If you can, I need you to check with me that I am doing the right thing.

There are more things, but I think these are the most important. Now you might know what it feels like to be me. I feel nervous and stuck a lot.

I always try to do a good job at school. I know that I have to work hard. There is a paper called my individualized education plan. My mom showed it to me. It says that I learn best by having things written down ahead of time. It says I need outlines written out for me. It says I am a visual learner. It says I need practice sheets so that I know what to study. I think this plan is good for me.

20. Can you try your best to use my IEP, please?

Two of the most important things you can give me are predictability and consistency.

 I used to feel smart at school. This year I didn’t feel as smart. I can only do a good job if I am taught the way I learn best. I like it when my teacher says, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Maybe by writing down how things feel for me, I can help people learn more about autism.

21. But I need you to listen.

Mr. _____and Mr. _____, thank you for listening to me. I want you to know that I am smart. I work hard. I want to do a good job. I have autism and I need your help. Could you please pass my message along?

From Erik Hedley

P.S. Mom’s Note: Please provide structure and options during unstructured times (recess and lunch). Asking students with autism to go outside and ‘mingle’ is like asking a visually impaired student to negotiate the playground without a guide dog. Wandering, flapping, humming and rocking are not ‘autism’; they are a coping mechanisms and a reaction to an unsupportive environment. I think it is best explained like this: ‘Work is play and play is work.’

22. Structure and predictability are critical. Please respect the perspective.

P. P.S.: "Believe that you can make a difference for me. It requires accommodation and adaptation, but autism is an open-ended disability. There are no inherent upper limits on achievement. I can sense far more than I can communicate, and the number one thing I can sense is whether or not you think I “can do it.” Expect more and you will get more. Encourage me to be everything I can be, so that I can stay the course long after I’ve left your classroom." (Anonymous)

23. Believe in me.

As my poppa used to say to my mom and dad: “Erik will surprise you.”

I will surprise you, but I need your help.

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.8. Suspension: What You Need to Know

By Ed Mahoney, Educational Consultant and advocate for students with special needs

The panic has been growing in you since you found the suspension notice that fell out of your child’s knapsack five minutes ago. Suspension? Conduct injurious to...? Then the phone rings. It’s the school.

Suspension – What is it?

“A suspension means students are removed from school temporarily for a specific period of time… Students cannot take part in school activities or events while suspended.”1 Principals can suspend a child as a result of inappropriate behaviour. A suspension is, at its heart, a form of discipline, a punishment. It is a means to “teach” a student that a given behaviour is wrong.

The Limits of Suspension

The Ontario Ministry of Education, in accordance with Human Rights Tribunal decisions and input, stresses that suspensions are only appropriate when the student is capable of “learning” from the action. Suspensions are not supported in legislation when a child, as a result of a disability such as a developmental disability or ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), cannot understand that their behaviour is “wrong”.

Consider the following. A child profoundly challenged by autism with no speech and little connection to the classroom bites another child who took away a string he habitually plays with. Clearly, a suspension would not be supported in this scenario.

A second situation where a child would not be expected to “learn” from a suspension would be where they might understand that an act is “wrong” but, due to a disability, have little or no control over their behaviour at the time in question. For example:

 

  • A child with Tourette’s yells an obscenity.
  • A student with a specific seizure disorder strikes out during their seizure.
  • A child with autism becomes over-stimulated in physical education class due to sensory challenges and strikes out at staff.

 

Realities

Parents must understand the reality of suspensions. First, the courts have indicated in recent decisions that a condition such as ASD does not, in and of itself, mean that a suspension is not appropriate. A principal might argue that even though a child has ASD, he/she is aware of the difference between right and wrong and has control over his/her behaviour.

A second practical consideration is that a principal has the power to suspend and it is the obligation of the family to challenge the suspension. In addition, even if the suspension is challenged successfully, this will likely happen after the fact and the student will miss the time in school during the suspension.

Therapeutic Withdrawal

“Your son is out of control and has hit another child. He will have to go home and stay home tomorrow.”

The practice of informal stays at home is common throughout the province. A parent is asked to take their child home. Some parents might believe this to be a suspension, but unless a child is formally suspended or excluded, a principal has no power to send a child home unless a parent agrees to the action.

Responding – Things to Consider

 

  • Consider requesting a suspension over an informal arrangement. For the most part, a suspension is not a judgment of your child but instead evidence of his need for individualized programs and services.
  • Work with medical and other professionals to validate and document the needs your child has that may result in challenging behaviour.
  • Consider appealing the suspension to the school board. This is your right.
  • Understand that, in some cases, repeat suspensions might constitute ample evidence of missing accommodations based on your child’s disability, an inappropriate placement and/or missing programming. These inadequacies might be addressed in potential Special Education or Human Rights Tribunals.
  • Cooperate in developing strategies to meet your child’s needs. Be an active and positive participant in seeking further support from both educational and medical sources.

 

This article is for educational purposes only and is in no way to be construed as legal advice.

For information about upcoming advocacy workshops and/or individual consulting, contact Ed Mahony at ed.mahony.advocacy@gmail.com

 

_____

References

1 Suspension and Expulsion - What Parents Need to Know

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/safeschools/needtoknowsexp.pdf

Students with special needs are not necessarily treated the same as non-exceptional students - Supreme Court of Canada - Eaton v. Brant County Board of Education (1997), 142 D.I.R. (4th) 385 S.C.R.241.

School Advocacy Hamilton

http://www.schooladvocacy.ca/left_level3/suspensions9.html

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.9. Transition to Post-Secondary Studies

Perspective of a student with ASD- “What I would have liked to know!”

By: Vicki Laframboise, speech and language pathologist

The education world is more and more conscious of the importance of putting in place effective and feasible strategies to help facilitate the transition to post-secondary studies for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although this transition represents a crucial step in the life of ALL students, it remains a significant challenge for students with ASD, given the range of their needs.

In order to gain a better understanding of the reality of this transition for students, I spoke with a group of students at the University of Ottawa who had already experienced the transition to post-secondary studies. These students are enrolled in administrative studies, biochemistry, biology, economics, ancient studies, medieval studies and the Renaissance, computer engineering, geology, history, computer technology, mathematics and statistics, music, political science, sociology, translation, etc. In spite of the heterogeneity of their areas of interest and distinct experiences in secondary school, these students share one thing in common…all have received a diagnosis of ASD.

Briefly, whether you are a student, parent, teacher, teaching assistant or professional, here are three important considerations the students ask be respected to make the transition to post-secondary education as smooth as possible.

Consideration # 1: Provide the time necessary for a harmonious and positive transition

For students with ASD, the transition should be prepared gradually throughout secondary school. This allows the students to not only become familiar with the steps of the transition but also to gain a better understanding of some of the challenges they most likely will face.

“The development of the intrinsic skills necessary for the transition to post-secondary education is the key to individual success!”

Simple and practical strategies to help achieve this goal could be presented during workshops targeting specific skills:

 

  • Post-secondary life and all imaginable details…
    • In order to reduce anxiety related to novel situations, this workshop should, among other things, address the following topics in great detail:
      • Registration process
      • Purchasing school material
      • Loans, grants and scholarships
      • Lodging, etc.
  • Organizational skills
    • As organization skills tend to present a challenge for students with ASD, the following topics should be addressed:
      • Note taking
      • Calendars and schedules
      • Technology
      • Time management, etc.
  • Social aspects of post-secondary life
    • Students unanimously stated that social expectations were overwhelming. In addition to social skills often mentioned in the literature, it remains important to examine social rules/norms (implicit and explicit) related to behaviour and expectations:
      • In class
      • With professors
      • With other students
      • In residence, etc.
  • Tasks of daily living
    • What new tasks will the student be responsible for and how will these be organised?
      • Organizing mail
      • Laundry
      • Public transportation
      • Groceries
      • Finances, etc.
  • Parties, drugs and sexuality
    • Being well informed remains the best tool for students.
      • What to expect?
      • How to react?
      • The concept of “No” (for girls and for boys)
      • Understanding limits related to alcohol, medication, etc.
  • Workforce
    • Preparation for the workforce will allow students to gain some knowledge about student jobs.
    • Looking for work
    • Curriculum Vitae
    • Cover letters
    • Interviews, etc.

 

The following list is not exhaustive therefore it is important that the workshop facilitator take into account specific needs expressed by participants as they relate to their personal experiences:

Consideration # 2: Guide the student in order to maximize his or her knowledge.

“The more the student is informed and equipped, the more he or she will be able to make appropriate and personally relevant choices.”

It is essential that students inform themselves and be informed about student services available at the post-secondary level. Guided by an adult, friend and/or mentor, students must attempt to find answers to the questions below.

Help the student create a checklist to ensure nothing is missed. Establishing a system to keep all information together is also essential (e.g., charts, grids, notebook, etc.)

Here are a few examples of questions to ask:

 

  • What are my rights as a student with special needs?
  • What are the legal obligations of the educational institution I chose to attend?
  • What programs and services are offered to students at the school I chose to attend?
  • Who is the resource staff I can speak to or meet?
  • How do I get help to complete applications for grants, loans, and scholarships?

 

The primary role of the friend, mentor or adult is to educate the student about the process by helping him or her anticipate the questions that need to be asked.

Consideration # 3: Respect the student’s learning style, rhythm and differences.

“How can I ask for help when I don’t even know I need help???”

All students mentioned the importance of discussing with them the possibility, importance and positive effects of having a reduced workload at the post-secondary level. It is essential to keep in mind that changes are possible but also that there are always exceptions. It is crucial to be informed!!

In closing, I would like to thank the students who so generously shared their experiences and suggestions with me.

“It is by listening to you that I learn and from guiding you that I understand.” Vicki

Here are two additional key comments:

“The system is too rigid and there must be a path allowing students to learn to learn.” – Student at the master’s level

“Many students with Asperger’s Syndrome are intelligent enough to develop their own social skills. However, a program targeting independence would promote quicker and more effective learning in this domain.”  – Student at the doctorate level

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.10. Model for an ASD Centre

Model for an ASD Centre – For Students from Grades 7 to 12

By: Anne Gingras, resource teacher-autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

An ASD Centre is a novel support model where the characteristics, associated features and needs of students with ASD guide the activities with the goal of continually providing tools to the students in preparation for the eventual transition to adult life. (École secondaire catholique Algonquin – Conseil scolaire catholique Franco-Nord)

Creating an ASD Centre in an educational institution is beneficial, as much for students with ASD as for other students facing their own challenges, without having received a diagnosis of ASD. Here are some key elements to consider in the set up of this type of room:

Room Choice

 

  • Choose a room that is easy to access during the school day, preferably in the centre of the school. This encourages daily visits by students with and without ASD.

 

Open Door Policy during breaks and lunch periods

 

  • Allow students with ASD to fraternize with their peers, while developing social, communication and self-regulation skills in a welcoming and understanding environment.

 

Physical Set Up and Equipment in an ASD Centre

 

  • Work Tables: for individual work, group activities, discussions and group lunches.
  • Kitchen Corner: refrigerator, dishes, sink, microwave, etc. to help encourage the development of activities of daily living and a sense of responsibility.
  • Relaxation Corner: an area apart, dimly lit with different relaxation tools (e.g., bubble tubes, beanbag chair, heavy blanket, fibre optic lights, fidget items).
  • Study Carrel: for individual or quiet work – when a student wants to be on his or her own, yet still be part of the group.
  • Sitting Area: a library with books on ASD that may be of interest to students. Also include comics, magazines on video games, sports, animals, etc. Comfortable chairs allow more personal conversations between students or between staff and students, particularly in a time of crisis or for important discussions.
  • Whiteboard: to write the thought of the day or the week as well as the date. An opportunity to reflect on the hidden curriculum.
  • Aquariums: in addition to creating a peaceful area, the presence of an aquarium encourages the sharing of knowledge and ideas and might even trigger new interests. The upkeep helps develop a sense of responsibility in the students.
  • Games corner: chess – cards - Lego® - to learn to play different games, develop social skills, share ideas, negotiate, compromise, etc.
  • Dividers: to separate one area from another and allow students to be alone, yet among others.
  • Sensory material: different objects to accommodate the sensory needs of the students: stress balls, fidget items, modelling clay, etc.

 

Other important aspects to consider

 

  • Lighting: it is preferable to avoid fluorescent lights. Opt for indirect natural light. Students appreciate lamps and lava lamps, which create a calm atmosphere and take into account their sensory differences.  
  • Entry and exit register: to monitor students’ comings and goings and as data, as needed.
  • Visual aids related to ASD needs on the walls: Circles of intimacy, zones of regulations, types of breathing, mantras/key phrases (instruments of the mind) as well as more specific strategies, all essential to self-regulation and social comprehension.

 

 
 
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Disclaimer: This document reflects the views of the author. It is Autism Ontario’s intent to inform and educate. Every situation is unique and while we hope this information is useful, it should be used in the context of broader considerations for each person. Please contact Autism Ontario at info@autismontario.com or 416-246-9592 for permission to reproduce this material for any purpose other than personal use. © 2012 Autism Ontario  416.246.9592  www.autismontario.com.
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1.11. Supporting Communication in High School

Reproduced from Autism-At-A-Glance, February, 2014

Students on the autism spectrum exhibit characteristic difficulties associated with communication. Deficits appear in three main areas: comprehension, expressive communication, and interacting with others.

Comprehension

Understanding verbal and non-verbal communication

Potential Areas of Difficulty Related to Comprehension

 

  • Speed of processing language. Students may process comments, questions, and directions more slowly than would be expected for their academic or cognitive abilities or age.
  • Non-literal language. Students may struggle to understand sarcasm, hyperbole, figures of speech, or other forms of non-literal language.
  • Inferences. Students may have difficulty reading between the lines or making assumptions about information that is not directly presented.
  • Vocabulary. Students may have difficulty generalizing vocabulary words outside of the specific contexts in which they were learned.
  • Point-of-view. Students often struggle to understand points of view other than their own, which can inhibit their understanding of oral and written language.

 

What This Might Look Like in the Classroom

 

  • Mr. Van Rynbeck tells the students to put their pencils down and pass their papers forward, but Darnell takes 10 seconds to put his pencil down, and does not pass his paper forward until he gets another prompt.
  • A peer says “thanks for letting me know” after Garrett rudely corrects her, and Garrett responds with a very sincere “you’re welcome,” not understanding the sarcastic tone.
  • The short story mentioned “an emotionally draining year” and a character’s “first birthday dinner without his mom,” but Monique could not figure out that the character’s mom had died.
  • In classroom discussions, Khaled struggles to understand the arguments of peers who have different opinions and values from his own.

 

Expressive Communication

Using verbal and/or non-verbal means to convey a message

Potential Areas of Difficulty Related to Expressive Communication

 

  • Sentence formulation. Students may have difficulty putting words together fluidly, which can show up as struggling to find the right words or abandoning sentences mid-stream or using long sentences without much actual content.
  • Vocabulary. Students may have limited expressive vocabulary or, at the other extreme, may use unusually complex, obscure, or formal vocabulary.
  • Stereotyped speech. Students may use certain words or phrases over and over.
  • Nonverbal communication. Students may have difficulty using appropriate tone of voice or body language or gestures. Their tone of voice or body language or gestures may be confusing or off-putting to others.

 

What This Might Look Like in the Classroom

 

  • Oskar says “as a matter of fact” before nearly every comment, which is noticed by his teachers and peers.
  • When asked a question about how he solved a math problem, Jeremy starts his response with “I was putting together, well, adding, I mean multi…actually, first, I was, I looked at the formula…”
  • Ashleigh is excited about her upcoming art show, but when her homeroom teacher asks about the show, Ashleigh speaks in a monotone voice with her arms crossed over her chest.
  • Emmett uses obscure and oddly formal vocabulary stating “Actually, I have impaired emotional capacity, which makes the possibility of a romantic relationship virtually inconceivable, at least for the foreseeable future” after being asked if he will invite anyone to the homecoming dance.

 

Interacting with Others

Using communication to collaborate or engage with others

Potential Areas of Difficulty Related to Interacting with Others

 

  • Initiating interactions. Students may be less likely to initiate casual communication with others. They may also over-initiate communication at times, such as blurting out, interrupting, or asking too many questions.
  • Conversation. Students are challenged by the give and take of conversation. They may have difficulties starting or ending conversations.
  • Maintaining topic. Students have a hard time staying on topic. They may make tangential or off-topic comments or stay on a preferred topic for too long.
  • Reading non-verbal cues. Students have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, gestures, and body language during conversations.
  • Perspective taking. Students may have difficulty understanding the perspective of another person, which may result in misunderstandings with others.

 

What This Might Look Like in the Classroom

 

  • Janella wants to make friends. Yet, during downtime in her advisory period, she looks at peers who are talking, rather than joining the conversation.
  • Despite his peers looking at their watches and tuning out, James continues to talk about obscure naval military battles.
  • Nyoshi will engage in conversation with peers by asking questions, but rarely comments or expands on their answers, typically just switching to a new question.
  • While talking about future plans, Tony says “Anyone who doesn’t go to college is either an idiot or worthless,” not recognizing or understanding that some people may struggle with school or may have career plans other than college.

 

There are numerous approaches you can use to support and encourage comprehension, expressive communication, and/or interaction in the high school environment. Some of these key strategies and examples include:

1. Priming: Provide information about tasks or activities ahead of time to support comprehension and expressive communication in the classroom.

 

  • Provide an outline of class notes or written directions.
  • Offer a list of questions to student before the beginning of class so they can formulate answers ahead of time.

 

2. Additional Processing Time: Build in extra time for support in processing and responding to directions or questions presented to the class.

 

  • Warn the student that you will be asking them to respond to the question next.
  • Have the class think about or write down answers for 15–30 seconds before raising their hands.
  • Modeling: Demonstrate and identify appropriate use of communication and social skills.
  • Model target communication skills and social skills in class to the student.
  • Model appropriate ways for peers to interact with and respond to the student with ASD
  • Show a video of another person or the student appropriately performing the target skill(s).

 

3. Peer Supports: Encourage and coach peers to provide supports (e.g., prompts to participate in discussions) to the student in class.

 

  • Intentionally seat the student near peers who you have coached to provide support.
  • Give the student specific roles within small group activities that challenge the student with ASD to practice target skills (e.g., group leader for a student who needs practice initiating).
  • Give the student a list of topics or questions to use when initiating conversation.

 

4. Social Connections: Help students to connect with peers in and out of class.

 

  • Point out commonalities or shared interests with peers in the class.
  • Sponsor a club around a student’s interest.
  • Offer your classroom as a meeting place and arrange a lunch group once a week.

 

Important Reminders

Slow Down, Support, and Simplify

 

  • Remember, high school environments are fast-paced and complex which often makes comprehension, communication and conversations more difficult for students with ASD. Think of strategies to slow the pace, minimize confusion, and reduce complexities in conversations, activities, and other situations.
  • Use a subtle signal that the student knows to indicate when you are joking or using sarcasm or when the student is drifting off topic.
  • Pair visual supports with verbal instruction in order to maximize comprehension and capitalize on strengths and preferences for visual modalities.

 

Provide Specific Positive and Constructive Feedback

 

  • Offer specific feedback to the student (and others in the class) about their communication skills. General feedback, such as “good job” or “nice work in class”, does not provide enough information to reinforce specific target skills.
  • “Nice job focusing on the main idea. Next time try to look up at the class when you talk.”
  • “I like how you are facing me while you listen. It might be helpful to give some other clues that you are listening—maybe nodding your head or saying ‘uh-huh’.”

 

Resources

American Speech-Language Hearing Association: http://www.asha.org/slp/clinical/autism-resources/

Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers

DVD: http://www.researchautism.org/resources/teachersdvd.asp

Brochure: http://csesa.fpg.unc.edu/resources/understanding-autism-guide-secondary-school-teachers

Recommendations for Students with High Functioning Autism: http://teacch.com/educational-approaches/recommendations-for-students-with-high-functioning-autism-kerry-hogan

Understanding the Student with Asperger’s Syndrome: Guidelines for Teachers: http://www.aspergersyndrome.org/Articles/Understanding-the-Student-With-Asperger-s-Syndrome.aspx

 

Permission is granted to reprint this Autism at-a-Glance if you acknowledge CSESA and the authors of this document. For more information please visit CSESA at http://csesa.fpg.unc.edu/ or https://www.facebook.com/csesa.asd

The work reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education through Grant R324C120006 awarded to UNC-Chapel Hill. The opinions expressed represent those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Suggested citation: Butler, C., & Dykstra, J. (2014, February). Supporting communication in high school (Autism at-a-Glance Brief). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, CSESA Development Team.

1.12. Supporting Functional Communication in High School

Reproduced from: Autism At-a-Glance, February 2014. (Autism at-a-Glance is a publication of the Center on Secondary Education for Students with ASD (CSESA).

Students on the autism spectrum exhibit characteristic difficulties associated with communication. Deficits appear in three main areas: comprehension, expressive communication, and interacting with others.

COMPREHENSION

Understanding verbal and non-verbal communication

Potential Areas of Difficulty Related to Comprehension 

  • Speed of processing language. Students may process comments, questions, and directions more slowly than would be expected for their academic or cognitive abilities or age.
  • Following directions. Students may have difficulty following directions, especially multi-step directions, directions that are presented only verbally, and directions that are out of context.
  • Questions. Students may struggle to understand and answer functional questions, even when they know the content or answer of the question.
  • Pronoun confusion. Students may have trouble understanding pronouns, especially “I” and “you.”

What This Might Look Like in the Classroom 

  • Mrs. Clarendon tells Charlie to staple his papers together, hand in the papers, and sit down. Charlie staples the papers, but then sits down without handing the papers in.
  • A peer asks Whitney “Do you have any pets?” Whitney says “I don’t know” even though she talks about her dog all of the time.
  • Vincent has difficulty following 1-step directions if his teacher does not provide some type of gestural or visual prompt. 

EXPRESSIVE COMMUNICATION

Using verbal and/or non-verbal means to convey a message

Potential Areas of Difficulty Related to Expressive Communication

 

  • Verbal language. Students may have very limited or no verbal language, and may struggle to put together phrases or sentences.
  • Pronoun reversal. Students may mix up pronouns in sentences, especially “you” and “I.”
  • Stereotyped or scripted speech. Students may use certain words or phrases over and over, or use scripted phrases from TV shows or movies.
  • Echolalia. Students may repeat verbatim words, phrases, or sentences that were just said to them or were said to them previously.
  • Nonverbal communication. Students may have difficulty using appropriate tone of voice or body language. They may have monotone speech, have exaggerated intonation, or have an odd vocal quality.

 

What This Might Look Like in the Classroom

 

  • Leo does not speak at all, but uses gestures and points to pictures to show what he wants.
  • Tanner says “Do you need a break?” when he really means “I need a break.”
  • Alexis regularly uses lines from TV shows and movies in her speech. For instance, every time she doesn’t want to do something, she says “I can’t be a princess,” a line from her favorite movie, The Princess Diaries.
  • Gerald uses a high-pitched and sing-songy voice with a cartoon-like quality when he talks.

 

Interacting with Others

Using communication to collaborate or engage with others

Potential Areas of Difficulty Related to Interacting with Others

 

  • Initiating interactions. Students may be less likely to initiate communication with others, such as greetings or asking questions.
  • Conversation. Students are challenged by the give and take of simple conversation. They may have difficulties responding to questions or comments from others, or taking turns in conversation.
  • Reading non-verbal cues. Students have difficulty interpreting facial expressions, gestures, and body language during interactions with others.

 

What This Might Look Like in the Classroom

 

  • Every time Yusef starts a conversation, he says, “Hello, what is your name?” even if he already knows the person.
  • Danny goes up to his classmate who is clearly upset and begins to talk about how excited he is for the truck rally this weekend, not picking up on the classmate’s mood.
  • Kristy only initiates interactions to get her needs met (e.g., requesting), and rarely initiates for social purposes (e.g., greetings, commenting, conversation).
  • Andre rarely engages in interactions with peers or staff, not out of disinterest, but because he has difficulty with initiations and responses.

 

There are numerous approaches you can use to support and encourage comprehension, expressive communication, and/or interaction in the high school environment. Some of these key strategies and examples include:

1. Visual Supports

  • Provide objects, gestures, pictures, or written cues to support comprehension and expressive communication in the classroomUse pictures or writing with verbal directions and questions to support understanding.
  • Give cards with conversation starters, topics, or jokes to promote interaction during lunch or other times during the day. 

2. Additional Processing Time

  • Build in extra time for support in processing and responding to directions or questions presented to the class.
  • Make sure to pause for at least 5 seconds after giving a direction or asking a question.

3. Opportunities for Communication

  • Arrange the environment in a way that encourages, and even necessitates communication.
  • On occasion, put away materials that are necessary for a familiar routine (e.g., worksheet) so the student has to communicate in order to get the materials.
  • Embed times for casual conversation during the day, just as you would see students doing during the day, similar to what you may see during passing time between classes.
  • Use topics of interest to the student during class to increase interactions.
  • Offer students the opportunity to communicate a choice whenever possible.

4. Modeling

  • Demonstrate and identify appropriate use of communication and social skills
  • Take short videos of other high school students (or your student) modeling appropriate communication and social skills and show the videos to your student
  • Use classroom staff or peers to model skills live (e.g., turn taking in conversation, initiating an interaction).

5. Peer Supports and Social Connections

  • Find other high school students that may be able to support the student with communication and social connections in class or around school
  • Find clubs or sports teams for the student to join that align with his/her interests
  • Arrange a lunch group with other high school students
  • Start peer programs or have high school student interns in your classroom

Important Reminders

Slow Down, Support, and Simplify 
  • Remember, high school environments are fast-paced and complex which often makes comprehension, communication and conversations more difficult for students on the autism spectrum.
  • Think of strategies to slow the pace, minimize confusion, and reduce complexities in conversations, activities, and other situations.
  • Provide information in small chunks – one step of a series of directions or one question at a time.
  • Think of ways to embed visual supports around the school environment—in the cafeteria, the media center, the gym, and more.
Provide Specific Positive and Constructive Feedback 
  • Offer specific feedback to the student about their communication skills. General feedback, such as “good job” or “nice work in class,” does not provide enough information to reinforce specific target skills.
  • “Nice job giving an answer to the question David asked you.”
  • “I like how you said ‘hi’ to other students in the library.”

 

 

RESOURCES

American Speech-Language Hearing Association

www.asha.org/slp/clinical/autism-resources/

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Resources

www.asha.org/slp/clinical/aac/

Communication Bill of Rights

www.asha.org/NJC/bill_of_rights.htm

Understanding Autism: A Guide for Secondary School Teachers

DVD

www.researchautism.org/resources/teachersdvd.asp

Brochure

csesa.fpg.unc.edu/resources/understanding-autism-guide-secondary-school-teachers

State Assistive Technology Resources

resnaprojects.org/allcontacts/statewidecontacts.html

 

*A Note About Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is a field that focuses on helping individuals augment or compensate for significant challenges in the area of communication using various systems or aids. The goal of AAC is to maximize effective communication for an individual. AAC systems/aids may be high-tech (e.g., applications on an iPad, speech-generating devices) or low-tech (e.g., picture symbols, communication boards, sign language). When considering different systems/aids, it is important to include someone with expertise in AAC.

School districts may have a person or team of people who are able to evaluate and support students who have limited verbal abilities and need alternative methods for communication. This team may consist of special educators, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, or others. If you have a student who may benefit from AAC or uses some form of AAC, look for contacts in your district or in your local area to help support these students in maximizing their communication.


Autism At-a-Glance

Permission is granted to reprint this Autism at-a-Glance if you acknowledge CSESA and the authors of this document. For more information please visit CSESA at csesa.fpg.unc.edu/ or www.facebook.com/csesa.asd.

The work reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education through Grant R324C120006 awarded to UNC-Chapel Hill. The opinions expressed represent those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.

Suggested citation: Butler, C., & Dykstra, J. (2014, February). Supporting functional communication in high school (Autism at-a-Glance Brief). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, CSESA Development Team.