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Transforming Education

Learning to Implement Effective Strategies for Students with Autism

Through Quick and Handy tools published by Autism Asperger Publishing Co.

education1Autism is a developmental disorder appearing in the first three years of a child’s life that affects the child’s brain development. According to the Centers for Disease Control (2012), one out of every 110 children has some form of autism. The incidence for boys is even higher at one out of every 70 boys. Autism Spectrum Disorders, a cluster of conditions that vary in character and severity, occur in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affect every age group.

For children with autism, a type of Autism Spectrum Disorder, delays in social interaction and communication present challenges for their own adjustment and for the adults who care for them. Children’s difficulties are typically evident in impaired social interaction (e.g., avoidance of eye contact), communication skills (e.g., impediments in learning language), and unusual repetitive interests (e.g., repeatedly flipping through pages of a book). Although the characteristics of autism may change and become less severe with age and treatment, autism has no known cure.

Without special training, parents and teachers regularly find themselves unprepared to support a child with autism. Parents may be puzzled by the vast amount of technical and sometimes inaccurate information that exists about the needs of children with autism. Teachers and other practitioners may struggle to find accessible advice for including children with autism in their classroom and addressing their unique social and behavioral issues.

The perspectives and responsibilities of adults who educate children with autism have inspired UNC special education professors Robin Brewer and Tracy Gershwin Mueller to team up and translate autism and behavioral research into a unique set of publications for teachers and parents. The Strategies at Hand: Quick and Handy Strategies for Working with Students on the Autism Spectrum and Strategies at Hand: Quick and Handy Positive Behavioral Support Strategies provide practical interventions that are based in the latest research in the field of autism and behavior.

“The number one question we get when we present to educators is, ‘I have a child who does this (fill in the blank), what do I do?’” Dr. Mueller said. “My answer is that every child is unique and every need is different, and consequently, there is no simple list of interventions or ‘recipes’ to use. However, we wanted to come up with something that is packed full of interventions and has been validated in tackling common situations for children who have autism.” Their work has gained tremendous support from the Colorado Department of Education and the Council for Exceptional Children.

The first Strategies at Hand guide focuses on working specifically with children with autism and uses straightforward language so that teachers, teaching assistants, administrators, and the general public can understand the characteristics of children with autism without needing much background knowledge on the condition. The second guide, written much like the first, focuses on Positive Behavior Support Strategies that can be used for all students, not just those with special needs. Both guides offer a variety of strategies that can be implemented schoolwide, classwide, and individually in a classroom or at home.

“When creating our Positive Behavior Support Strategies publication, we considered one of our mantras; that is, that we shouldn’t develop an individualized behavior plan for a student unless we’ve tried schoolwide and classwide strategies first,” Dr. Brewer said. “We know there may be other strategies that we can implement for everyone, including students with behavioral problems, that will prevent the behavior.” Therefore, readers of their publications learn new skills that will benefit not only children with autism but many other students in their charges as well.

education2The investment it takes to learn how to assess students’ behaviors and determine which practical strategies to use in particular situations can pay enormous dividends for teachers and students alike. “Our research shows that early intervention for 20-25 hours per week (regardless of the chosen program) can lead to good results for most students,” Dr. Brewer said. “The earlier the intervention, the better the results. Some children can now be identified as early as 12 to 14 months, and this early intervention is critical.”

Reaction to the two books by parents, teachers, and other experts in special education has been heartening. “Our next publication focuses on helping educators understand the special education law, and another will include strategies for teaching students with severe needs,” Dr. Mueller said. “The feedback we’ve received has all been positive. People like the “Strategies at Hand” books — they are handy, inexpensive, and very user-friendly.”