Innovative Solutions to the Autism Crisis in Education

10/06/2011  |  Evelyn Gould, MS
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The dramatic increase in the incidence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) among children and the current economic climate presents an increasing challenge to both families and schools.  Budget cuts mean schools are faced with larger class sizes, decreased access to training and resources, and fewer staff at a time when they are seeing more children with autism in their classrooms. With states scrambling to save more money in coming months and years, the situation in education is set to worsen. Essentially, schools are finding themselves increasingly “on their own” when it comes to accessing the training and tools they need to provide an effective education to children with autism in their classrooms.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA), the application of scientifically established principles of learning and behavior to increase socially significant behaviors and decrease problematic ones, is considered to be at the forefront of effective therapeutic and educational interventions for children with autism. Schools are beginning to incorporate ABA into their classrooms through the hiring of board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs), yet many schools remain without access to a BCBA and budget constraints severely limit current BCBA’s in their ability to provide the level of individual support teachers and schools need to provide an effective education to every single child with autism.

To help address this need, in April of 2011, the nonprofit organization, Autism Care and Treatment Today! and The Center for Autism and Related Disorders, Inc. (CARD) announced a charitable initiative for schools called Skills 4 America™ to provide educators with the knowledge and tools needed to effectively treat children with autism. The grant provides training in the principles and procedures of ABA via an online training course called CARD eLearning ™ as well as access to an online toolkit called Skills® which provides educators with a comprehensive assessment, curriculum design, and progress tracking system. Both CARD eLearning and Skills were developed by CARD, which has treated thousands of children with autism over the past 20 years.

CARD eLearning is a 40-hour online training course providing foundational knowledge in applied behavior analysis (ABA), autism and research-proven intervention techniques. The training series consists of nine video-based training modules that feature online note taking, quizzes, a final exam and a certificate of course completion. In addition, CARD eLearning serves as a valuable management tool by providing administrators with the means to monitor the performance of teachers taking the course.  CARD eLearning trainees are also eligible to receive continuing education units (CEU's) and certification for the training they receive.

While CARD eLearning provides educators with what they need to know regarding how to teach, they are still faced with figuring out what to teach. This is particularly challenging for teachers considering the unique needs of children with autism and related disorders. Skills addresses this part of the process by providing educators with everything they need to effectively design and manage individualized treatment programs for every student.

The first challenge that Skills helps educators address is the identification of each child’s particular educational needs (i.e., what exactly the child already knows and what they need to learn, in order to prioritize educational goals). Typically, carrying out a comprehensive skill assessment is time-consuming and costly for educators. However, with Skills, teachers have access to a comprehensive, age-appropriate assessment that links results directly to curricula covering each of the major developmental areas: language, play, cognition (perspective taking or “Theory of Mind”), executive functions (goal-directed behavior and self-management), motor, social, adaptive and academic skills).  Together, the eight curricula offer almost 4000 lesson activities that are directly linked to specific IEP goals and benchmarks. Once educators have chosen the activities to teach, detailed lesson plans provide step-by-step instructions and a wide-range of printable materials, including customizable lesson guides, visual aids, worksheets, data sheets, and tracking forms.

Educators are increasingly being held accountable for demonstrating effectiveness and for making data-driven educational decisions. To address this need, the Skills system includes a variety of charts and graphs that allow educators to track not only each student's skill acquisition but also the impact of various events (challenging behavior, alternative treatments and life events) on student learning. In addition, administrators can view and compare the performance of students assigned to each teacher or contrast teachers' effectiveness in relation to one another with their students.

Conclusion

Educators are faced with great challenges as they attempt to meet the needs of an increasing number of students with autism in their classrooms.  The current economic climate means that schools are struggling to access the training and tools they need to provide an effective education to every child.  If we are to effectively address this “autism crisis” in our classrooms, innovative solutions are needed. One such solution could be the development of affordable, online training and curriculum design tools, such as CARD eLearning and Skills.

Free access for your school

The Skills 4 America initiative continues to provide free access for schools to Skills and CARD eLearning until the end of 2011. Administrators can apply for the 2011 Skills 4 America grant by registering online at www.skills4america.com.

For more information regarding CARD, you can visit www.centerforautism.com

Evelyn Gould MS is a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA) currently working at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. She has 10years experience of working in the field of autism and other developmental and learning disabilities, including working closely with families, teachers and other professionals, in a variety of clinical, educational and research settings.
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  Comments

  5/14/2013 3:33:55 AM
Anonymous 


New Comment 
New Comment
Some schools are not using rewards systems with children on the spectrum. In our son's school, the school's answer to autism is to put those kids in a self contained setting to keep from having the teachers "deal with" them. To the person who wonders what sort of programs are offered for adults with autism, please keep in mind that IF schools would do their best to accommodate children with autism early and well, when these children become adults, they might have a better life--maybe. At least it is more possible when we don't wearhouse our children because it is harder to accommodate them and teach them the social skills they need to accomplish the academic skills needed for success.
  10/7/2011 10:47:16 AM
Katrina Reeves 


New Comment 
I agree with Eric, its definitely nice to see ABA catching up to technology! This is something the autism community has needed for a long time and will hopefully help a lot of families that don't have local access to quality ABA services. This is great!
  10/6/2011 2:51:29 PM
Eric Lynch 


encouraging news 
It's encouraging to learn that ABA providers are finally catching up and using online technology to facilitate ABA therapy. My best friend's sister has a child with autism and they've seen great results with ABA. Initially they did ABA themselves, hiring volunteers to do the therapy, as they were in a rural area far from any providers. This "Skills" program sounds super promising because they'll now be able to do it with much greater speed, efficiency and effectiveness. Maybe Google will buy the program and incorporate it into their suite of sweet services!
  10/6/2011 2:46:17 PM
Anonymous 


New Comment 
It's obvious that the current economical situation makes it difficult for these programs to blossom, but what sorts of programs are offered to ADULTS who suffer autism?
  10/6/2011 2:34:46 PM
Anonymous 


New Comment 
I was in the dark as to how to educate my students that had autism. Because of Skills I now have a better understanding of what autism is, and tools to help my students.

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