Autism Spectrum Disorders Program

Population Served

The Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Program serves students with developmental disabilities who are either on the PDD/Autism spectrum, or who require many of the same instructional strategies that students on the autism spectrum require. They may show deficits in any or all of the following areas;

  • Communication skills including social pragmatics
  • Social skills
  • Adaptive behavior
  • Sensory regulation or modulation
  • Cognitive and/or academic skills
  • Gross and/or fine motor skills
  • Self-help and daily living skills

 

Program Description

Students from preschool (see CASE Developmental Preschool description) through eighth grade are enrolled in self-contained classes which are housed in member school districts. The CASE ASD Program includes a preschool class, a primary grade class, an upper elementary class, and a middle school class. A high school class will be added to this program in the fall of 2013.

The CASE ASD classes typically provide individualized programming with instruction in a 1:1 or 1:2 staff to student ratio. If the students are older and/or more independent, the staff to student ratio will decrease at which point some instruction might be delivered in a small group setting. This is determined based on the needs of the students. Typically the younger students will be in a classroom of approximately six students, and older students may be in a classroom of approximately ten students. Therapy services for students are per the IEP but can be delivered both individually or in small groups. Therapy services are generally provided in the classroom to facilitate carryover by, and consultation with, the instructional staff. Although many of the students in these classrooms may be verbal, there are also students who communicate with the use of augmentative communication (e.g., pictures, sign, symbols, or speech generating devices). Common instructional strategies include: 
 

  • Structured teaching approach using the methodologies of Applied Behavior Analysis including discrete trials, incidental teaching opportunities, and systematic schedules of reinforcement
  • Ample 1:1 instructional time
  • DIR Floortime, particularly with younger students
  • Visual supports
  • Total communication approach (i.e., verbal language, gesture, sign language, picture symbol communication, Picture Exchange Communication [PECs] training) as appropriate to individual needs
  • Ongoing data collection with regular review for evaluation of student progress and procedural effectiveness
  • Parent/guardian training and/or consultation
  • Sensory programming and/or other occupational therapy techniques
  • Speech/language/communication programming
  • Social skills training
     

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) work directly with each ASD class. They collaborate with teachers and therapists to identify appropriate goals and programs in areas such as adaptive behavior, communication, socialization, daily living skills, and cognitive/academic development. They directly supervise the ABA Tutors and monitor student progress in the IEP objectives which they address. They consult with all classroom staff and parents/guardians.

Our Autism Program Specialist also works directly with each ASD class. She provides direct services such as Floortime and social skills groups, along with consultation with staff and parents/guardians. She focuses primarily on students’ social-emotional development and supports students’ growth in areas such as conflict resolution, perspective-taking, conversing, and dealing with frustration.

The ASD classes are equipped to address a wide range of behaviors, and students will have, as a matter of routine, an individualized Behavior Intervention Plan, to be reviewed and updated annually or as needed. Examples of common behaviors that are addressed include noncompliance, tantrums, stereotypy, bolting, and flopping. Behaviors that compromise staff or student safety, or behaviors that make it difficult or impossible for other students in or near the classroom to learn are beyond the scope of the program. Examples of excluded behaviors include persistent screaming or intense, repeated aggression or self-injurious behavior.

Along with our own ASD classes, member districts may access ABA programming for students within their own district. This “ABA only” service allows for the provision of the direct services of ABA Tutors and the consultation of a BCBA in a student’s home school with goals and objectives specified for ABA by the student’s Team and IEP.

 

Curriculum

The curriculum for the ASD classes is determined by the students' IEPs and follows the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks with appropriate modifications and accommodations. Various assessments appropriate to the ASD population, such as the ABLLS-R, are also used to guide target areas for instruction.

In our preschool and elementary programs, monthly themes and special activities throughout the year are reflected in most aspects of the program, including therapies, as appropriate. Targeted areas include teaching of cognitive, academic, communication, motor, social, sensory, adaptive behavior, and self-help skills. Individual and small group opportunities are available. A total communication approach is used to facilitate language development in the context of direct teaching and the natural environment. This includes use of spoken language, vocalization, objects, pictures, sign language, gestures and aided forms of communication. Circle time, art, cooking, singing, symbolic play, snack/lunch, gym and science provide opportunities for application of skills and generalization of concepts.

As students reach our middle school program, we begin to incorporate functional life skills, health and fitness, leisure, and pre-vocational skills. The classroom is equipped with a fitness area including a treadmill, exercise bike, stability balls, and yoga mats to accommodate daily fitness routines. A small kitchen area accommodates our cooking curriculum. Focus is on independence, self-reliance, responsibility, and social maturity. These skills help to build a foundation leading to high school programming.

Students go out into the community on a regular basis to apply their social, language, safety, and functional academic skills in natural, real life settings. This includes occasional curriculum-related field trips for all classes. Our upper elementary and middle school classes go swimming on a weekly basis to serve both fitness and sensory needs. Community outings increase in our upper elementary and middle school classes to include practical activities such as ordering food at restaurants and purchasing groceries for cooking activities.


Inclusion Opportunities

All students are identified with an age-appropriate grade level. They are included in general education classes and activities with their grade level peers, as deemed appropriate by the Team. Students are always supervised and supported by a CASE staff member in any of the inclusionary classes.

Preschool students may join a preschool class for activities such as morning circle, choice time, or snack time. At the elementary and middle school levels, inclusion programming most often occurs during “specials” such as art, music, physical education, and library, or in social activities such as lunch and recess. Some students are also included, per their IEPs, for academic classes, such as health, science and/or social studies. Students may participate in their grade level field trips and school assemblies.

In many of the schools, there is an opportunity for reverse mainstreaming. For example, our middle school students participate in a Best Buddies program in which students from the general education classroom come into the class to participate in small groups that focus on appropriate peer interactions, social skills, and communication skills.

 

Home/School Connections

Home/school communication is an important part of the CASE ASD Program. A daily notebook travels from home to school and school to home, to keep staff and parents/guardians current regarding students’ progress. The notebook is also an important tool to help the adults at home and at school to elicit pragmatic language, “news” from the students. As the student gets older he/she may carry his/her agenda to and from school. Parents/guardians can also determine with the teacher if email is a good option for communication. The ASD program also offers clinic meetings on a regular basis to provide opportunities for parent/guardian training, sharing of information, and coordination between home and school. Annual IEP review meetings, parent/guardian-teacher conferences, and progress reports complete the range of options for parent/guardian-school communication.

CASE also provides a parent/guardian support group throughout the year. This group is facilitated by our Autism Program Specialist who sets agendas based on parent/guardian interests and needs. At times, speakers will be brought in to focus on particular topics.

 

Extended School Year

A five-week summer option is available for students whose IEPs call for an extended year program. The CASE Extended School Year Program, which is held at the air-conditioned Russell Street Elementary School in Littleton, addresses the students' IEP goals and benchmarks over the summer in much the same manner as the regular school year program. Inclusionary programming is not available during the summer session.

For some students, extended school year services beyond the five-week summer school program are necessary. “Intersession” services are provided for students for whom the break in services between the school year and summer program would result in substantial regression of skills.  The need for Intersession is determined by the student’s Team, and Intersession services are provided by ABA Tutors, under the supervision of the BCBAs.

 

Staffing and Services 

  • DESE Certified Special Education Teachers, trained and experienced in ABA, and/or DIR Floortime and other best practice strategies and methodologies for working with students on the Autism spectrum (or students functioning in a manner similar to those on the spectrum)
  • Board Certified Behavior Analysts
  • Autism Program Specialist
  • ABA Tutors
  • Speech and Language Therapists
  • Occupational Therapists
  • Physical Therapists
  • Adjustment Counselors/Social Workers
  • Teaching Assistants
  • CETT (Assistive Technology Team)
  • Others as required by students’ IEPs (such as Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Nurse,Teacher of the Deaf, Orientation and Mobility Services)

 

Referrals

Placement in all CASE programs follows consensus by the sending school district, parent, and CASE staff. Current, signed IEP and placement pages are required for enrollment in all CASE classes. Referrals to a CASE program are initiated by the school district. Parents/guardians may obtain additional information about this or other CASE classes by contacting the special education office in their school district. District personnel may obtain additional information, including a referral form, by contacting the CASE Office as noted below.

Sandra Daigneault
Assistant Director
978-318-1536
sdaigneault@casecollaborative.org