Effective Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorders

There are many interventions available for educators who work with students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). But not all interventions are created equally. Educators need to be good consumers in evaluating interventions and applying those that have been determined effective and ergo have the best chance of promoting positive outcomes for students. Only some of the touted interventions are based on rigorous scientific research and have the capacity to improve a student’s development, these are called evidence-based practices (EBP).

 

Interventions established as evidence-based should be the go-to interventions for educators. Because of this, the law now requires that teaching practices be based on evidence of effectiveness to further the development of students.

(Source: National Professional Development Center)

To assess whether an intervention qualifies as an EBP, the National Professional Development Center on ASD looks at peer-reviewed research on the intervention. An intervention is also considered to be an evidence-based practice if it meets one of the following criteria:

  • Randomized or quasi-experimental design studies: Two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental group design studies by two different research groups.
  • Single-subject design studies: Five high-quality, single-subject studies by three different research groups with at least 20 participants.
  • Combination of evidence: One high-quality, randomized or quasi-experimental group design study conducted by at least three different investigators or research groups.

While the criteria is not easy to fulfill, in this way educators and interveners are able to gain confirmation of effectiveness of a particular intervention that enhances a child’s development and supports them in a vital way. A sample of ASD interventions that are considered effective include:

  • Antecedent-based intervention: Arranging events or circumstances that precede an interfering, or problematic, behavior in order to reduce that behavior. For example, say a student repeatedly struggles to focus on her workbook exercises during class time. An instructor using antecedent-based intervention might realize that the issue is related to the student’s schedule, and offer a break before workbook time.
  • Functional behavior assessment: Systematic collection of information about an interfering behavior designed to identify circumstances that support the behavior. When an instructor uses FBA, he describes the problem behavior, identifies events before or after that control the behavior, and develops a hypothesis about the behavior. Then, he tests the hypothesis.
  • Modeling: Demonstration of a desired behavior that encourages the student to imitate the behavior. This EBP is often combined with other strategies such as prompting and reinforcement.
  • Peer-mediated instruction and intervention: Typically developing peers or help children with ASD to acquire new behavior, communication, and social skills by interacting in natural environments. Teachers or service providers teach peers strategies for engaging children and youth with ASD in positive and extended social interactions in both teacher-directed and learner-initiated activities.
  • Social skills training: Group or individual instruction designed to teach learners with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) ways to appropriately interact with peers and adults. Most social skill meetings include instruction, role-playing or practice, and feedback to help learners with ASD acquire and practice communication, play, or social skills.

Keeping up with evidence-based practices takes some extra effort, but being knowledgeable about the options available and how to implement them properly makes a significant impact. Students deserve the best education possible..

To learn more, view the updated EBP report that supports the identification of 27 ASD evidence-based practices and includes fact sheets for each evidence-based practice.

For more resources, visit The National Professional Development Center online.

Changing the Seclusion and Restraint Culture in Schools

By Dr. Patricia Wright, Vice President of Professsional Services, Rethink Ed

Schools often face many challenges when it comes to responding to students who exhibit challenging behaviors. In some cases, these behaviors can pose a serious danger to one’s self or others and require careful attention. However, in most cases, challenging behaviors are merely disruptive and should not be considered an opportunity to restrain or seclude a student. While it is common practice to discourage seclusion and restraint, these practices are still being used in some schools.

The Government Accountability Report published in 2009 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office documents multiple cases of abuse and death related to seclusion and restraint in schools. The report also found “no federal laws restricting the use of seclusion and restraints in public and private schools.” Several states and territories have policies and guidelines regarding seclusion and restraint and they are exceedingly clear that these practices are to be used only for dangerous behaviors.

But according to the GAO report, students with disabilities in some schools around the country were often forcibly restrained by untrained professionals when they were performing non-threatening behaviors. This is a clear indication that these practices are still used inappropriately. The use of seclusion and restraint also continues to be a major source of contention for educators.

In the three decades I’ve spent working with educators and students with challenging behaviors, I’ve noticed that consultations often started with educators asking “What should we do when a dangerous behavior happens?” This is an important question; however, I believe that a more appropriate question educators should ask is “What should we to do prevent a dangerous behavior from ever happening?”

Corporal punishment and seclusion can have a negative and sometimes traumatic effect on students and should never be used in cases where a student is not a threat to themselves or others. It has also been systematically demonstrated that these types of discipline aren’t as effective as the use of evidence-based behavior intervention and support, which can dramatically reduce dangerous and disruptive behaviors and prevent them from happening in the future.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports is an approach that establishes the behavioral support and culture necessary for students to succeed socially, emotionally and academically. It provides concrete strategies to promote skill development and reduce the likelihood of a student exhibiting a challenging behavior. Although challenging behaviors aren’t common in every student, there are a number of factors that can lead a student to perform a challenging or disruptive behavior.  This can include mood swings, difficult situations at school, sudden trigger or a learning disability.

Teaching students to engage in appropriate behaviors is well within the educator wheelhouse and teachers, paraprofessionals and related service-providers can accomplish this by simply utilizing evidence-based practices such as functional behavior assessments, functional communication training and positive reinforcement.

In order for the culture of seclusion and restraint to change, more professional development and support is necessary for educators who deal with students who exhibit challenging behaviors. Educators can also benefit from access to training videos and comprehensive resources on how to implement effective positive behavior and support strategies.

Rethink is committed to ensuring that all children receive a quality educational experience in environments that are conducive to the growth and development of students and educators. Addressing challenging behavior is necessary to ensure a safe and effective learning environment. Through Rethink’s easy-to-use platform and extensive training programs, educators can learn the basics of behavioral intervention and gain helpful advice on how to impact their school culture in a positive way.

With hope, the use of effective positive behavioral support strategies can be the key to reducing the need for seclusion and restraint and moving towards a safe and healthy environment for all.

Person-Centered Planning for Adulthood

Person-centered planning (PCP) is an approach to support individuals with disabilities in planning for their future. PCP benefits students, supporting them to define the life they wish to live and develop a problem-solving process to achieve their life goals.  The process includes a student inviting family members, friends and others to meetings to discuss their hopes, dreams and desires; inviting others to  contribute to the discussion on identifying their goals and ways to achieve them.  Facilitators play an important part in the PCP process. They keep supporters focused on the individual and ensure that the voice of the individual is heard and is the primary focus. Some schools use PCP as part of the IEP process.

Although the PCP approach helps students and families create a concrete vision and plan for a student’s future, some students require significant support to participate as fully as possible in the process. This can be due to communication limitations or a lack of maturity.

To support students’ increased participation in the PCP or transition-planning process, educators and families can:

  • Promote choice – Help students make simple choices (e.g., what to wear, what to make for breakfast, what order to complete their homework in, what they want to order for lunch, etc.) Promoting more choice-based options can help lead to self-advocacy later in life.
  • Create sampling opportunities – Provide sampling opportunities to students and help them identify their goals and preferences. This can include giving a student the opportunity to engage in a variety of activities to gauge interest. Use an assessment to identify student interests. Once a level of interest is established in a particular activity, continue to support the student in further developing skills specific to their interests.
  • Use assessments – Find and use different assessments and curriculum to facilitate the sampling process and gain support. The Assessment of Functional Living Skills (AFLS) created by James Partington and Michael Mueller is a skills assessment that encourages community participation and helps identify interests and areas where students need assistance. Once you identify these interests and needy areas, you can start to teach students skills to achieve their goals. This can empower them to fully participate in the PCP or transition-planning process.

Rethinks’ Transition Curriculum helps educators build and further enhance transition-related skills for students. It includes goal builders, lesson plans and materials to teach community, home, employment and social skills to help students actively participate in their life planning process and prepare for life beyond school. It also enables students become their own advocates and encourages them to actively participate in communities specific to their interests.

Transition lessons break skills down into simple lessons that help students understand the importance of self-care, following routines and instructions, making choices, participating in groups, accepting feedback and correction and more. These sample lessons demonstrate how skills can be used to teach students to assume responsibility for their actions and establish independence in skill-building scenarios.

The PCP or transition process doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an ongoing process that requires care and consideration of a student’s specific needs and goals. Students also vary in skill and disposition, so it is always wise to develop plans and steps to support a student throughout the process, even if he or she can clearly articulate their expectations for their own personal development. Starting early in the educational process with communication, social skills and self-determination encourages children and youth to actively engage in their future planning and will promote improved participation in Person Centered Planning.

Development and Career Advancement for Paraprofessionals

By Christina Whalen, PhD, BCBA-D Director of Research at Rethink

The role of a paraprofessional is heavily dependent on the needs of each student, and as such, their duties are ever changing. Some of the most important changes to highlight are the fluctuations in student behavior and performance that many paraprofessionals encounter. This is significantly heightened in school environments where paraprofessionals support students with disabilities and those who exhibit challenging behaviors.

To meet these challenges, it is important for paraprofessionals to learn and apply behavior analytic skills in their work. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is an effective and commonly used approach for special education and inclusive models for students with Individualized Education Programs. It used as a means to apply interventions that help to significantly improve and impact behavior. Learning how to use it successfully can help paraprofessionals remediate disruptive behaviors, provide new learning opportunities for students and assist teachers in helping students build the skills necessary to meet their IEP goals.

In addition to managing student behavior, there are a number of additional skills paraprofessionals must master. These include:

  • Implementing behavior intervention plans
  • Using effective reinforcement to assist students
  • Using prompts after instructional stimulus
  • Using prompt-fading strategies
  • Implementing evidence-based instruction
  • Accurately recording student progress
  • Providing maintenance and generalization opportunities
  • Providing opportunities to build communication and social skills

Despite promise in the profession, many paraprofessionals who encounter issues on the job struggle to find adequate training for the skills they must possess. Many convey they are not adequately trained or prepared to take on the responsibilities that are required of their position.

Paraprofessionals also report that they are often left alone with students to make important decisions and act independently, despite federal mandates that require paraprofessionals to work under the supervision of a certified teacher. This discomfort is illuminated when paraprofessionals receive professional learning opportunities from sources that are lacking in cohesion and comprehensiveness.

Creating opportunities for paraprofessionals

Paraprofessionals can positively influence student achievement and the classroom environment when they are provided with adequate training and professional support.

This type of support means granting more opportunities for paraprofessionals to grow professionally and learn skills they can use to benefit their students and their schools. Like any job, career growth provides motivation for engagement and learning. Once basic skills are acquired through relevant training, paraprofessionals should be given the opportunity to advance their skills and advance in their career.

Here are two ways that paraprofessionals can experience high-quality professional development:

Registered Behavior Technician training

The Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) credential from the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) is for paraprofessionals who wish to demonstrate competency in behavior analysis under the supervision of a certified behavior analyst. Acquiring the credential requires 40 hours of instruction in behavior analysis, demonstration of these skills in an observation conducted by a certified behavior analyst and a competency exam. Certification also improves the confidence of administrators and parents that students are receiving quality services from paraprofessionals.

On-demand training

On-demand training provides opportunity to learn the necessary skills with flexible scheduling. On-demand professional development in conjunction with strong coaching and leadership leads to a higher quality in instructional support. On-demand training is delivered in a number of different forms, including video modeling, video self-modeling, didactic instruction via video, narrated PowerPoint presentations and assigned readings. Training includes learning assessments for those receiving training and requires teachers and administrators to monitor the progress of those engaged in training. On-demand professional development is also convenient and it can increase confidence, reduce costs and decrease time needed for training.