Monday, February 25, 2013

Sowing the seeds of self-determination

There's this word in the Special Education universe that's often misunderstood until, as a parent, you and your child are in the thick of it: Transition.  It's not the lowercase transition, which occurs so many times in the life of a student with special needs.  There's the transition from an Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP) that preschoolers have from birth to age 3, if they qualify, to the Individualized Education Program (IEP) that the local school district drafts.  Then the transition from Early Childhood classes to Kindergarten.  Then from elementary school to middle school.

And somewhere along that middle school time in the state of Wisconsin, or in high school according to federal law, families start to hear about this Transition.  Transition is the period of time and series of events required to prepare students with special education needs for life after secondary education.  While students with IEPs may graduate with their peers, they may also opt to stay in the public school system, receiving related services until they're 21 years old.  This Transition planning is multi-faceted and critically important.  Perhaps most importantly, it's a time when students are required to engage actively in the process and select desired outcomes.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has a series of four publications intended to assist Transition teams with various aspects of the process.  There is one that speaks to the steps families and schools can take when students are yet in elementary school: Opening Doors to Self-Determination Skills.  Here's the list for students (found on p. 7 of the booklet):

  • Know your strengths (what you are good at).
  • Know your areas of need (where you need help).
  • Know your interests (what you like).
  • Know what kind of support you need to be successful.
  • Learn how to make choices.
  • Be a part of Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, at first by introducing IEP members and describing yourself (interests, likes, dislikes).
  • Share a list of accommodations you need with general education teachers.
  • Participate in clubs, sports, and other activities kids your age are in.
  • Begin to understand your own disability and what it means to your learning.
  • Choose a time and place to study and do homework at home each day.
  • Help out with family chores (making dinner, shopping, cleaning your room).
  • Volunteer and help out in your local community.
  • Enjoy who you are! Learn about yourself. You are more than your disability.
How can students with autism be self-aware if we don't start having these conversations with them early?  The better they are at being familiar with themselves, the better they will be able to determine their own needs.  Knowing their strengths and their supports is part of self-determination.  And being able to share those things with peers, teachers, and eventually employers, will make that Transition more smooth.

So as a parent and professional, I encourage you as parents and teachers to be Transition-minded with your students when they are in second grade.  And by the time your student with autism is in middle school, they will be far more likely to participate meaningfully in this mandated process.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Look Before You Leap

Last week, more than 100 Special Education teachers and administrators, plus parents of children with autism spectrum disorders and related providers, converged in our area for a combined Community of Practice (CoP) on Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Development Disabilities (ASD/DD) and Autism Program Support Teacher (PST) meeting hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).  The focus of the day's sessions was Evidence-Based Practice (EBP).  As such, there was an introductory presentation on the meaning and significance of EBP in the field of autism education and treatment.  Key themes emerging from this presentation were a) the importance of implementing the intervention with fidelity (as the researcher/developer of the intervention intended) and b) discerning the most appropriate intervention for the individual learner (knowing that not every intervention will be effective for every person with autism).  This first session was followed by overviews of select EPBs and discussion of case studies where various EBPs should be applied.

There are two critical FREE resources that educators and caregivers should know about regarding EBPs.  (I mentioned them in a blog in September 2012, but they deserve additional explanation.)  They are Autism Internet Modules (AIM) and The National Professional Development Center on ASDs (NPDC).

With so many possibilities to explore for the treatment and education of our loved ones with autism, choosing the road to travel on can be intimidating.  These websites not only offer the research basis for EBPs, but in the case of AIM, offer actual training in video modules regarding the interventions, which may include some best practices (ones that are considered tried and true, but lack the research criteria required to qualify as an EBP).  So instead of reading dozens of articles and books, you can download a PDF at NPDC's website (click on Evidence-Based Practices and then on EBP Briefs).  Each of the 24 EBPs has its own  components, including an overview, a bibliography-format evidence base list, steps for implementation of the EBP, and an implementation checklist.  This helps the reader to implement the EBP with fidelity.

More of a multi-media learner, or want more than the 24 EBPs listed through the NPDC?  Then click on over from there to AIM's website.  The Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence [Disabilities] (OCALI) hosts this gem, which features the "alpha" interventionist on the practice teaching you how to use the intervention!  There are pre- and post-module assessments, so you can determine if the practice is worthy of the time you'd take to complete a module (anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours).  There are FAQs, discussion questions, and lots of supplemental resources for each module.  A newer feature is the ability to earn a certificate of completion for only $10 per credit hour.  Otherwise, there is NO FEE to use the site.  Just create a login and password; and you'll never get spam or other solicitations from OCALI or AIM.

AIM has 41 modules available and another 34 in progress, spanning from Early Identification of ASD to Autism in the Workforce.  These are wonderful for professional development, continuing education, family supports, caregivers, educational assistants, and pretty much anyone who interacts with people with ASD.

There are almost infinite ways you can encourage the use of these resources in your community.  How are you using, have you used, or do you plan to use the NPDC and AIM to help determine your next steps?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Coconuts + Autism Awareness = Hoa Aloha

There's nothing like the thought of Hawaii to bring a smile to our frozen winter faces!  When we first started planning our bowling event more than five years ago, we chose a theme that has become the spirit of our most significant annual fundraiser.  Hoa Aloha means good friend, and that's what this family-friendly day is all about.  It's the spirit of ohana -- a family sense of working together without judgment, where no one is left behind or forgotten.

We bring in ramps for our younger bowlers or those without the upper body strength to get the ball to roll down the lane.  We can put the gutter guards up so knocking down pins is more likely.  We understand when the noise and the waiting becomes too much for our friends with autism and they run out of ways to cope.  We exchange compassionate glances instead of disapproving stares.  We raise our eyebrows with joy instead of furrowing them with scorn.  We support each other, understanding that while one in 88 of us has autism spectrum disorder, we're all in it together.

Awareness. Acceptance. Empathy.

If that sounds like the kind of mission you'd like to support, please get a team of four to six bowlers together and register to join us at New Berlin Bowl on Sunday, April 14, starting either at 10:30 a.m. or 1:00 p.m.   You'll have two hours and fifteen minutes to bowl two games.  For $110, your team members will get shoe rentals, unlimited soft drinks, plus the two games and a festive lei per person.  They'll be qualified to win great prizes in the following categories:

  • Top Fundraiser - Individual: a Toshiba 50" LED L2200U HDTV 1080p 60Hz
  • Top Fundraiser - Individual, Runner-Up: an Apple iPad mini
  • Top Fundraiser - Team: TBA
  • Highest Score: Miller-Coors products
  • Best Costumes - Team: New Berlin Ale House Bowling Party for Ten People
  • Best Costume - Child: TBA
  • Most Gutter Balls: TBA
  • Most Creative Use of a Coconut: the coveted coconut bowl from Pepper it Up pottery!

PLUS DOOR PRIZES!  Here's how you get a chance (or several) to get in on those ...

  • Raise at least $10 in donor pledges.
  • Wear a Good Friend shirt.
  • Be a current member of Good Friend.
  • Show up with blue in your 'do. (stay tuned for more on this year's HighLight It Up Blue campaign!)

Participants can also have their team photo taken by a professional photographer at no charge!  (Donations appreciated.)  Even if you don't want to come and bowl, you can pick up some raffle tickets for your chance to win a Brewers VIP Package for four, get some goodies (including fresh popcorn and gluten-free selections!) at the bake sale, or just grab lunch at the Ale House and cheer on your favorite bowlers.

We are grateful for those who support our staff and student trainings through this fundraising opportunity, and for all the volunteers who make it happen!  Watch for updates on our Facebook event page.