5 Things a Student with Autism Wishes His Teachers Had Known

by James Sinclair

If students are like flowers, then students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are a unique and extraordinary part of the garden that is a school. At first, we may seem out of place – our differences stand out and you can’t take your eyes off us. However, you will quickly come to realize that what makes us special can ultimately better the bouquet.

From those who tried to force off my thorns, to those who simply left me to wilt, I definitely had my fair share of ill-prepared teachers while growing up as a student with Autism. After sitting down to write this article, I realized that there were many things I wished my teachers had known when I was in school. So here are 5 tips to help you help your students with ASD grow and thrive.

1. Don’t stifle our creativity 

Yes, people with ASD can be great at math. We can be awesome with programming and we might even be good at everything else your iPhone has an app for. But, we’re also more creative than we are often given credit for – as demonstrated by recent studies into ‘the paradox of creativity in autism’ (Best, Arora, et al.). Despite this, there is a huge misconception that all students with ASD are built for stats and science, and this can often result in many of them being steered away from subjects in which they might have excelled.

For myself, this occurred during school when I was removed from art classes due to becoming visibly distressed at the lack of precise definition in the lessons.  Instead of providing me individualized support and accommodation, I was excluded from this essential outlet to explore my creativity during the school day. As such, it wasn’t till I created my blog that I realized that not only could I be imaginative but, as it turns out, I wasn’t half bad at it. The lesson here isn’t that all children with ASD should become bloggers though; it’s that we shouldn’t be stereotyped into fields that are purely based on facts and figures.

2. Be definitive (but not too definitive)

People with ASD aren’t mind-readers and can struggle with interpreting and understanding actions. Of course, this isn’t any great secret, which is why many tips for teaching students with Autism will encourage you to be as definitive as possible when giving instructions.

Now, I’m not going to say this is bad (because it’s not), but it’s often the case that when many see the phrase “be definitive” they will rely on using examples to teach. This is a problem for people with ASD as, due to our practical minds, we will often only take the outcome away and overlook the nuance and process, limiting the creation of a holistic understanding that drives new knowledge acquisition.

Educators can avoid this shortfall by working at a 1-on-1 level with a student with ASD, coaching them through a task from start to finish. Ensuring that actions are understood over repeated is crucial here and, while it may seem time consuming at first, it’s no different from the old ‘teach a man to fish’ saying –  your options are either to give us your full attention and sit down with us once, or give us fleeting support and prepare to sit with us again and again.

3. Promote a growth mindset

Imagine that you’re asked to complete a puzzle with 8 pieces. When you finish, the examiner says “Well done. You’re really smart,” and then offers you the option of doing another 8-piece test or one with 16 pieces. According to multiple studies (Dweck, 2006), you’re more likely to go for the 8 piece again in order to avoid the possibility of embarrassing yourself in front of the examiner who gave you praise. On the other hand, if that examiner had said “Wow, that looked tough, but you got there in the end,” (or something along those lines), it’s more likely that you would take on the 16-piece puzzle.

This is the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset – something which is incredibly important to consider when teaching people who are very literal, such as students with Autism.

This was certainly the case for me growing up. After I was told that I was a ‘math whiz’ in my early years, I stopped trying to learn new things and thought I would always remain the best (which gave me a nasty shock when I changed schools). Ensuring that people with ASD always know there is room to improve is instrumental in guaranteeing that we do so.

4. Don’t label us as “bad kids”

One of the classic misconceptions surrounding students with ASD is that when we have a meltdown and become disruptive, we are intentionally causing trouble for ourselves and those around us. This is well and truly, positively and precisely, unfathomably wrong (and I still don’t think I have stressed that enough).

In reality, a meltdown is when our minds have become overloaded/overwhelmed and, instead of knowing that this is the moment to take a break, our bodies instead shutdown and ‘reboot’ in our most natural state: the fight or flight mode. As most are aware, this can cause quite a disturbance and be very upsetting for all those around. However, it’s not more upsetting for anyone than the person with Autism themselves.

When this does happen, it shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity to punish or scold the actions of your student with ASD, but to step up, offer support, and identify intervention strategies for that student in the future.

Take a moment to consider if the meltdown was:

  • Caused from not understanding a question.
  • Due to learning too many different things at one time.
  • Triggered by something in the room causing a sensory disturbance and making it impossible to focus.

Either way, the one constant is that throwing us out of the classroom won’t help. That’s why, when dealing with a meltdown, always remember to tackle the cause and not just the response.

 5. Teach us to embrace Autism

I spent most of my early childhood keeping my Autism a secret, locked away with the fact that I often wore pyjamas under my school clothes and that I was still watching (and loving) Dora the Explorer until the age of 16. This need to hide the real me meant that I was far too busy disguising my Autism to learn, and it often resulted in me pretending to be sick or purposefully disconnecting from my peers.

Of course, teaching a child with Autism to avoid this by embracing their condition is not quite as simple as a motivational speech – after all, Autistic or not, what adolescent is 100% comfortable with their identity? But small tricks like giving students with Autism a safe space to recharge our batteries and lending an ear when we seem upset can often be enough to hold us over until we find our own way. Compared to the previous 4 tips, this may not seem like much. However, just like teaching students without ASD, teaching someone with Autism is about giving us the tools to succeed and then helping us find independence.

Though students with ASD often come to school possessing their own unique tools of success, they can often suppress them in pursuit of fitting in.  This means that to help a student with Autism reach their full potential, we need educators who will look beyond simple book learning; who will guide us while we learn to see our sometimes obsessive personalities as unparalleled concentration, our often irregular approaches as inventive problem-solving, and any and all of our other differences as the strengths they truly are.


References

  • Dweck, Carol S., Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House, 2006.
  • Best, C., Arora, S., Porter, F. et al. J Autism Dev Disord (2015) 45: 4064. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2518-2

James Sinclair is an avid autism advocate who, when he’s not playing the latest Pokémon game, is busy finding the positive in every diagnosis. As an advocate, James has had previous speaking opportunities at The British Parliament and at Cambridge University and his writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Metro Newspaper and his self-founded site: Autistic & Unapologetic.

Writing for Resilience: The Impact of the Positive Purpose Essay on Students

by Dr. Maurice Elias

Watch the webinar presented by Dr. Elias on 10.30.2019.

The Power of Purpose

When students enter the schoolhouse door without a sense of positive purpose, it is difficult for them to connect their varied learning experiences and other opportunities into a coherent whole that shapes their lives.  They lack a strong reason to learn, take on challenges, or behave well. An enduring sense of purpose typically emerges in adulthood, but having a primary goal, a moral compass, a focus on something other than, and larger than, oneself, and actions that align with these beliefs, start to become particularly important in middle school.

Stanford University psychologist William Damon views purpose as a “stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of positive consequence to the world beyond the self.”

Not surprisingly, positive purpose is connected to social-emotional learning skills.  For example, here are links with social awareness:

  • Finding your special task –  what it is that allows you to excel?
  • Recognizing your feelings and using them as a guide to your actions
  • Recognizing and encouraging the achievements of yourself and also of others, for large and small accomplishments, as they contribute to purpose.

Getting Started with a Positive Purpose Essay

Writing an essay about positive purpose is an important way to build social awareness, as well as provide direction and energy for learning.  But students usually can’t just start writing. Here are some steps to get them ready:

  1. Look at the positive purpose of well-known individuals, via non-fiction books, biographies, documentaries, social studies, current events.
  2. Learn about, reflect on, and write about the positive purpose of a personally-known individual – interview a local hero, community leader, member of the clergy, first responder, family member, educator or other staff member in the school. 
  3. Write about one’s own positive purpose.

Use a Prompt to Guide Writing

You can use a standard essay writing prompt for your students’ grade level, adapted to positive purpose as the subject of the essay.  Here is an example from middle school in Jersey City, NJ:

In your classes and in your life you may have learned about and encountered people with a strong sense of purpose. Similarly, you might feel your own sense of purpose. In a five-paragraph essay that includes an introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion, please respond to the following:

  •           What is your definition of purpose?
  •           What might be your purpose? Why?
  •           How would someone know that is your purpose in life? 

From an essay written by an 8th grader from a high-poverty, low-achieving school based on the prompt above, here is the introduction and definition of purpose:

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others,” said Albert Schweitzer. I believe I was made to  entertain, inspire creativity and guide others.

I think the definition of purpose means reason to do something, like when you say what’s your purpose for choosing a certain career, and you state  your reasons. This is why I strongly am convinced that I was made to guide  and entertain others because, having a strong passion for art and Broadway plays… A purpose of doing something can lead you into realizing what you want to grow up to be, as you recognize what you like to do.

Here is how she responded to the last prompt:

Others would realize what my purpose in life is by knowing what my career and life goals are or, who I admire to be one day. I admire to be like Steve Jobs because I believe without mistakes you can never grow to be an exemplary person and, even though Steve Jobs failed many times he became one of the most successful men in our generation.

Try It With Your Students

Her essay—and those of her peers in Grades 6-8—opened her teachers’ eyes about the depth of her thinking, aspirations, and abilities. By articulating their sense of purpose, students became more aware of their own potential, and their own assets.

Try it with your students.  Have them share drafts of their essays with classmates, get several rounds of feedback, and then practice reading them with clarity and pride in class, at assemblies, or at parent or community meetings.  Students can also communicate their positive purposes by creating artistic or musical renderings, along with brief write-ups.  I am sure your students can find creative ways of communicating their sense of purpose, and in doing so, they will become more resilient.

Join me in the October 30th webinar to learn more about purpose, as well as Laws of Life, and Students Taking Action Together—activities you can use with students to engage them in ways that skills-focused training typically does not.


Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D., is a professor and former director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. He is also director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (www.secdlab.org), academic director of the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (engage.rutgers.edu) and founding member of the Leadership Team for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). Dr. Elias lectures nationally and internationally and devotes his research and writing to the area of social-emotional and character development in children, schools, and families. He is a licensed psychologist and writes a blog on social-emotional and character development for the George Lucas Educational Foundation at www.edutopia.org. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Ellen, near their children and grandchildren. Maurice J. Elias, Ph.D Professor of Psychology at Rutgers., and Steven E. Tobias, Psy.D Director for Center of Child and Family development are the authors of several books including: Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students and Emotionally Intelligent Parenting.  

Using Student Strengths to Create Belonging

By Dr. Sara Totten

In my role as Director of Student Services, I recently observed in a classroom where a student, we’ll call him Lewis, demonstrated minimal eye contact, response (verbal or physical), or social interaction. Upon Lewis’s arrival to the classroom, I observed the educator working with him provide a number of visual, physical, and verbal prompts to guide his morning routine. The educator also performed a number of sensory activities with the student. As the morning progressed, Lewis transitioned to the snack table and remained in his seat for the duration of snack time. I then observed him verbally respond to the educator— the first verbalization of the morning!I

I am embarrassed to say I had at first assumed the student was non-verbal because I hadn’t witnessed any verbal communication during the arrival activities. I realized the implication of my initial assumption that the student did not yet have verbal language. Gut punch!

The experience was a reminder of how easily we, as educators, return to what we think we know. There is a natural desire in all of us to categorize and label; this is often how we make sense of the world. We take from what are often limited exposures or observations to form our schema. But, there are dangers in assumptions, particularly when any of those assumptions create conscious or unconscious limitations for our students and lead to environments where our students may not feel they belong.

All students want and deserve to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. To truly create a sense of belonging, students need to be seen. In an effort to create opportunities for belonging, educators must take time to get to know student strengths, interests, and preferences in a meaningful way. The more educators can build on student strengths, create student engagement, and hold high expectations for all learners the more students will feel a sense of belonging. To do so, educators might utilize the following:

  • Student interest inventories or strengths-based assessments
  • Time to observe students in their environments, paying attention to communication, play, and overall interactions.
  • Identify Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence (ABC) when students are performing well. Specifically, what about the environment created the behavior you wanted to see, and what about the immediate action after the behavior reinforced it?
  • Increase opportunities for connections (i.e. morning meeting, free or structured play, etc)
  • Explore students’ interests in lesson plans
  • Create multiple ways for students to express ideas
  • Identify and provide avenues and opportunities to meet potential sensory needs

It is vital that educators constantly reflect upon their own assumptions. McCollum (2016) identifies a simple yet effective notion, that of “presum[ing] intellect.” If we assume all students have high capacity and intelligence for learning, we change the assumption that comes with a label. We shift from deficit thinking, to strengths-based thinking. We own that it’s on us as educators to create the environments where all our students can flourish.


Dr. Sara Totten is currently the Director of Student Services for the DeForest Area School District, a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin. She earned her doctorate in educational leadership at Edgewood College in Madison studying principal perspectives of disproportionate placement of African American students in special education programs.

Sara is currently the interim president-elect and has previously served the Social and Awards and Legislative representative roles on the Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services. She also serves on the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance (SAA) and participated on the research and development committee to revise the SAA Evidence-Based Agenda this past year. In addition to her role as director, Sara has taught a number of courses for Lakeland University’s Master Counseling program.


It’s About Progress, Not Perfection: Celebrating the History of Special Education and Autism Advocacy

by Dr. Kurt Hulett

Special education, as we know it today, was born out of conflict and has continued to serve as a lightning rod for controversy and litigation since the early 1970s.  In the history of the United States few areas in the pantheon of education have drawn any where near the amount of debate, litigation, and scrutiny as special education over the past 45 years.

There was much fighting involved in the passage of P.L. 94-142 (1975) and quite a bit of conflict over the PARC v. PA (1971) and Mills v. Board of Education (1971) cases – all of which played major roles in the building of the foundations of the field of special education as we know it today.  This comes as no surprise in that all great strides in civil rights in America have only occurred after great struggle and conflict.

Today, however, as we celebrate Autism Awareness Month, we will take a moment to step away from controversy and celebrate the incredible journey of special education in America, and in particular, celebrate the advocates, adults and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), their teachers, families and everyone else who has worked tirelessly to advance the field of special education.

Promoting Awareness

Discussing both the field of special education as a whole and ASD in particular makes a lot of sense.  The incidence rate of ASD has skyrocketed over the past half-century, and it is in large part due to the hard work of advocates for children with ASD that has driven the awareness necessary to help identify and assess these young people, and the presence of a very powerful law (IDEA) that has required the appropriate identification and evaluation of all children suspected of having disabilities.

According to Wright (2017):

The prevalence of autism in the United States has risen steadily since researchers first began tracking it in 2000. The rise in the rate has sparked fears of an autism ‘epidemic.’ But experts say the bulk of the increase stems from a growing awareness of autism and changes to the condition’s diagnostic criteria.

Although some argue environmental factors have contributed to the growth in incidence among students with ASD, it is highly likely that ASD has always existed at current levels and that we have only begun to fully and appropriately identify and assess individuals with ASD. The growth in the number of students being identified with ASD has been exponential, which is in direct proportion to the efforts and success of ASD advocates in promoting public awareness. This increase in incidence is emblematic of the success advocates for children with ASD have had in working on behalf of them.

Advocating Legally

Whether it be success with litigation or the 1990s addition of Autism as an eligibility category under IDEA, advocates of students with ASD have had tremendous success in advancing the rights and opportunities for children with ASD. They have been among the most successful groups working on behalf of students with disabilities. In fact, a recent review of litigation indicates that Autism-related court cases are more than 10 times as prevalent as those related to other areas of disability (in relation to FAPE-based IDEA complaints).

The most important recent Supreme Court case that impacts all of special education, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District (2017), was steered to the High Court by parents, attorneys and advocates of children with Autism.

Prior to Endrew F. standards for Free and Appropriate Public Education  (FAPE) were guided by the Rowley (1982) decision, which established the “merely more than de minimis” standard for providing education to students with disabilities. However, in Endrew F., parents of a son with ASD successfully argued that his school had not set appropriately ambitious goals and that he had not made meaningful progress.  Endrew F.’s parents were able to demonstrate that in a private placement he made both academic and behavioral progress after years of little progress in public school.  The court ruled unanimously in their favor, thus establishing new standards which require schools to demonstrate ‘meaningful progress’ and ‘appropriately ambitious’ goals for students with disabilities. In this way, the Endrew F. case serves as a lasting and powerful symbol of the importance of the ASD community and the impact they have had on the broader field of special education.

How can we get involved?

Autism Awareness month is a great time to think about how we can get more involved. Here are some ways we can support the individuals with ASD as well as the overall movement to promote Autism Awareness:

  1.  Advocacy:  We cannot let up on the advocacy front.  We must continue to support and fund organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals with ASD.  The law, including both legislation and litigation, is always evolving and we, the special education community, must remain steadfast in ensuring the right cases move through the system and that IDEA and other laws are reauthorized and funded appropriately.

  2. Training and Awareness in Schools:  Although awareness and prevalence are growing rapidly in the schools, we still have a long way to go to educate all members of the school and surrounding communities about ASD and the best practices for supporting these individuals.  We must continuously promote inclusive environments and fund the training of staff and personnel at every level of the educational enterprise.

  3. Funding of IDEA:  As it is a tremendously underfunded mandate, we must urge Congress to meet the original promise to fund the law at a minimum of 40%.  The lack of funding at the federal level creates very difficult scenarios at the local levels.  Schools and communities want to do right by students with ASD; however, they need the supports, services, and funding to do so.

  4. Research on Best Practices in the Schools:  Tremendous progress has been made in the area of research and best practices. However, we must keep pushing forward to find new and better ways of supporting and helping individuals with ASD.  In particular, we need continued focus and research on interventions and methodologies that can be utilized in schools to reach and teach these students – both academically and socially.

  5. Innovation:  We need to support research in areas of innovation.  For example, Virtual Reality is demonstrating exciting advances and applications for children with ASD.  We need to continue to push the technological boundaries and push for continued innovation in research, science, and applied technologies.

  6. Focus on Inclusion in All Settings:  At the end of the day, one of our primary goals must be the successful integration of all individuals with ASD into the mainstream of society.  We must invest funding and research efforts into new approaches and methodologies for advancing this cause.

In Conlcusion

As we dedicate the month of April to promoting Autism Awareness and inclusion, let’s also remember to celebrate the many individuals in the broad field of special education who fight on in courthouses, halls of state houses, boards of education, IEP meetings and everywhere else on behalf of all students with disabilities, and in particular those who continue to successfully  advocate on behalf of students with ASD. It is time to acknowledge the tremendous success of these advocates and to say, on behalf of children with ASD, “Thank you!”


Dr. Kurt Hulett is a former school Principal and a current writer, special education consultant, and advocate whose goal is to bring educators and stakeholders from all strata together to work for the benefit of all children. He is also a member of the Center for Special Education Advocacy and hosts the Kurt’s Kitchen Table EdTalk video podcast. Dr. Hulett is the author of Legal Aspects of Special Education and is currently working on an education reform book entitled Miles to Equality, due out in 2020.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator: Jean Lawson, Truman Elementary School (Springfield, MO)

Mrs. Jean Lawson

Ms. Lawson is a special education teacher at Truman Elementary School in Springfield, MO. Truman Elementary is a part of the Springfield Public School District, which is Missouri’s largest school district. Over 25,000 students attend 36 elementary schools, an intermediate school (grades 5 – 6), nine middle schools, five high schools, Phelps Center for Gifted Education, and 2 early childhood centers! Out of all the teachers at those schools, Ms. Lawson has been awarded Springfield’s Teacher of The Year 2018-19!

Classroom Cafe Cart

We are honored to celebrate with Ms. Lawson and feature her as a Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator. Ms. Lawson has successfully implemented Rethink Ed into her daily classroom activities. For example, she uses Rethink resources and data tracking to help her students meet their goals. These resources help create obtainable targets because she can break down a student’s goal into smaller, more achievable tasks.

“Skills we learn are practiced through authentic experiences. I believe in providing authentic experiences to bring learning into the real world. Math and social skills are used in cooking and selling snacks to teachers on our Rolling Café.”

Ms. Lawson also loves using the Rethink motivation boards from the resources section. In the photo below, you can see some of her students making pizza. When a student meets a goal or completes an assignment, they receive another pizza topping until they have made a finished pie! Ms. Lawson has seen great progress and success using these motivation boards. She found that many students,

Baking Pizza and cookies!

“who have been reluctant to do nonpreferred work, willingly work. The positive association with the table work has crossed over to other times where they will willingly work and not use the motivation boards. That’s success!”

With the ability to record, track, and analyze student data, Rethink helps Ms. Lawson promote the success of her students. We are honored to partner with Ms. Lawson and Springfield Public School District and we look forward to continuing to inspire hope and power potential.

Mrs. Lawson and her staff (along with Santa and an elf). This includes Mrs. Lawson and her other autism teacher (in the green on the right), Phoebe Ezell; and our 6 paras. A couple of them also work with students on their goals, collect and enter data on Rethink.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Amanda Brock

Position: Implementation Specialist, Autism Department, the Office of Student Services
District: Washoe County School District, Reno, NV

Over the past 5 years, Mrs. Brock has used Rethink Ed to address the various needs in Washoe County School District. She began using Rethink as a teacher and now utilizes it as a district wide implementation coach. She is also a Rethink Ambassador and trains educators in her district on how to use Rethink Ed!

Rethink Ed supports Ms. Brock by helping her to:

Collaborate! Rethink Ed has given Mrs. Brock a common language, which has encouraged collaboration across the entire school district. For example, Mrs. Brock has two autism programs, with very different teaching and data collection styles. Rethink successfully helped to establish teamwork across multiple classrooms; “using the Rethink lesson plans and systems made it so any adult could work with any student at various locations throughout classroom.” With the help of Rethink’s lesson planning, they are able to ensure consistency in data collection. The detailed, step by step lesson plans easily allowed her to “facilitate lessons guided by paraprofessionals with the confidence that each step was being followed with consistency.” Rethink has helped Mrs. Brock to support the whole school community regardless of what class a student or educator is in.

With Rethink Ed, “I am able to guide teachers…and see growth in teacher knowledge and decrease in problem behaviors not only with the target student but with the whole class.” 

Train other Educators! As a district wide Rethink Ambassador, Mrs. Brock encourages all of her teachers to utilize the entire Rethink system to best support their students’ needs. She provides ongoing training and support for educators on the various functionalities of the system. Washoe County School District has 63,919 students in 104 schools. The district has 4,705 instructional staff; therefore, Mrs. Brock can’t always support everyone in person. But with the help of Rethink she can “run reports on usage and determine what kind of support is needed for different teachers.” For example, Mrs. Brock used Rethink with “novice teachers to direct them first to the training center and available materials; for most teachers, I guide them through selecting appropriate lesson plans and engaging with the behavior tool and for my veteran teachers, I encourage use of running reports, graphing tools, meaningful usage of the student activity center as well as exploring the various webinars available.” The teachers are benefiting from Rethink webinars and resources regardless of what stage of their teaching career they’re in. Teachers can “solve issues in their classes by using different aspects of the Rethink system.”

Further her Career! As a Rethink Ambassador, Mrs. Brock has experienced personal career growth. Rethink has, “furthered my knowledge about adult learning theory and how to effectively deliver professional development to adults in a way that would be most meaningful for each individual.” Over the last 5 years, Mrs. Brock and Rethink have grown and adopted to meet the changing needs of educators and students. Mrs. Brock is excited to continue to work with Rethink as the program develops more resources and tools to meet the growing needs of our students.

Spotlight Educator of the Month: Joanna Cunningham

Spotlight Educator of the Month!

Position: Special Education Preschool Teacher
District: Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN

Joanna Cunningham is a Special Education Preschool Teacher at Shelby County Schools in Memphis, TN. Shelby County Schools serves approximately 26,000 special education students and has an instruction force of more than 1,000 professionals. Rethink Ed’s platform, especially its data collection and professional development, the ABA training series, supports Ms. Cunningham every day in her classroom.

Rethink Ed is a valuable tool for creating IEP goals, collecting student data, lessons, and professional development. The platform assists Ms. Cunningham in developing student plans and goals. It helps her to “think through exactly what I want my students to be able to do at the end of the IEP and to ensure I’m collecting the data in the correct way. The lessons help ensure I’m delivering consistent instruction to meet these goals.” Confidently, Ms. Cunningham knows that her students are on the right path and working towards their goals.

Data collection is tricky. Often, we think we know exactly what we are collecting data on and why, only to discover that it was the wrong approach. But with Rethink Ed, Ms. Cunningham found that it “helped me look more closely at the way I’m collecting data, what I’m measuring, and to be more granular about it. By doing this, my students are benefiting from better instruction and quicker course correction (if needed).” She can work closely with her students and team to visually see where they need to focus.

Ms. Cunningham has noticed a marked difference and improvement in her students as well as with her team of teachers. The ABA series basic training has, “reconfirmed the education I have had in working with challenging behaviors and is helping me train my team to ensure we are carrying out behavioral interventions with fidelity.” They do this by independently going through the online modules and then discussing how they can better serve their students.

This is just the beginning of Ms. Cunningham’s and her team’s Rethink Ed Success. She is excited to continue to utilize Rethink Ed in her classroom and continue to track student data. She knows that this platform will assist with IEP teams going forward and is excited to “look back and see where the student has been and how far they have come.” Ms. Cunningham is ready to jump into spring with Rethink Ed at her side!

Congratulations, on being featured as our Spotlight Educator. We look forward to continuing to hear about your success with Rethink Ed.

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Mrs. Annika Morris

Position: Special Education Teacher
School District: Amarillo ISD (Texas)

Annika Morris is a Special Education Teacher at Amarillo ISD. Amarillo ISD is a large district in Amarillo, Texas and has over 33,000 students and 2,200 teachers! Mrs. Morris works with students with disabilities and their parents to ensure needs are met in the classroom and the students are

Rethink Ed Resources & Lessons

prepared for life beyond school. She has been using Rethink Ed in her classroom for two years.

Rethink Ed has helped Mrs. Morris, her paraprofessionals, and students grow and succeed in the classroom. By utilizing lessons from the lesson library and quick-start data library, Mrs. Morris can create individualized lesson plans and goals. The data sheets and printed lesson plans (in one easy location) help her and the

Mrs. Morris and her team of educators!

paraprofessionals in her classroom to work together. Entering data and detailed notes in the Rethink Ed app allows for increased collaboration.

Together, Mrs. Morris and her paraprofessionals review the data and determine if the student is generalizing the skills with another teacher in another setting and can visualize how quickly the student can respond. Because the data sheets are easy to read and use, both the teachers and paraprofessionals can efficiently document when working with students.
One of her favorite outcomes of using Rethink Ed is that it has resulted in

less questions from the paraprofessionals about what they should work on and how they should document what they do. The paraprofessionals feel more successful and in turn are students are more successful!

Mrs. Morris is excited and ready to meet her 2018 Classroom goals using Rethink Ed!

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Ms. Charline Rivera

Spotlight Educator of the Month: Ms. Charline Rivera, Pre-Kindergarten PreSchool Disabled (PSD) Autism Educator
School:
McKinley School in the Newark Public School District (New Jersey)

Ms. Rivera in her classroom at McKinley School, NJ!

Charline Rivera is a Pre-Kindergarten PreSchool Disabled (PSD) Autism Educator at McKinley School in Newark, NJ. McKinley School is a part of Newark Public School District and its special education program is one of the largest in the district. Ms. Rivera uses Rethink Ed in her classroom and is very excited to see that her students have progressed using the platform over the past year and a half.

At McKinley School, Rethink Ed is a vital part of keeping track of several types of data. From pre-academic and academic data to behavioral supports, Rethink provides a variety of real time reports and supports, to assist educators in tailoring instructions for the individual child.  Ms. Rivera works with Autism educators, therapists, resource teachers, and paraprofessionals to use Rethink to its fullest potential. One of her favorite aspects of the platform is the Rethink Ed app which allows her to track data anywhere. Whether it’s during an extra-curricular activity, a school trip, on the playground, and/or in the classroom setting, data is collected and tracked throughout the academic school day. As a result, educators, case managers, and administrators can collect, view, and assess real time data. This data is then used to tailor lessons and tasks that meets the needs of the students and helps them achieve and master goals. By using this program, educators can collaborate and provide the same continuous support and targeted instruction to the individual student, regardless of whether the student is in a special activity class, therapy, or in a different classroom.

Ms. Rivera and her team of educators!

Rethink is a proven, essential tool for Ms. Rivera and her team. She credits their success to the online behavioral supports and training videos. These professional development and training series assist her team and truly help her students succeed. Rethink, “creates a platform area where everything is accessible and available not only for the student to succeed in their goal, but for the educator to carry out the lesson successfully and purposefully.” Over the past year, Ms. Rivera has seen a visible and analytical improvement in one of her students. Using Rethink, she was able to able to collect ABC data and frequencies. By using the data and graphs, they were able to identify the pattern and the antecedent to many of the student’s situations. The platform, specifically the behavioral supports provided to assist the student, helped them to create a behavioral plan that fit his needs. Ms. Rivera is proud to say that “a year later, with the help of Rethink data and supports, the student has decreased self-injurious behaviors. Since the decrease in these challenging behaviors, he has been awarded Student of the Month, Perfect Attendance, and has achieved and surpassed many of his pre-academic goals to a level higher his current grade level.” With the Rethink program, Ms. Rivera and her team can assist the students to overcome many challenging behaviors.

Ms. Rivera is excited to continue to use the Rethink Ed platform and watch her students’ continued success!

Rethink Ed Spotlight Educator of the Month: Ola Minxhozi

Position: Therapist, Team-Leader

District: Regional Center for Autism, Tirana

Ola Minxhozi is a therapist and team leader at the Regional Center for Autism in Tirana, Albania. Over the course of two years, she and her team have integrated Rethink Ed into their teaching practices and its use has helped them in a variety of ways.

Rethink Ed has helped them address problem behaviors, streamline the data collection process, and easily track progress. She described the training process as gradually introducing different features of the platform while setting aside time for individual exploration of Rethink Ed. “It was helpful for each one of us to use Rethink Ed’s materials and watch videos on how to use the program,” Ms. Minxhozi said. She also pinpointed the model student on the platform as a very helpful tool as it allowed staff to do trial runs with various aspects of Rethink Ed without altering any real data.

To Ms. Minxhozi, one of the most valuable aspects of Rethink Ed is its recognition that each student learns differently and has strengths and weaknesses specific to them; therefore, the program allows the instructor to assess the student’s abilities first and then recommends lessons that are appropriate for the student’s skill level. For additional support, “the learning plan gives other suggestions, helpful hints, and error correction only to better help the student in the process of learning.” Rethink Ed also allows the staff to save time when preparing for lessons by providing relevant materials and instructional videos with each lesson.

Ms. Minxhozi also highlighted the behavior support the platform offers as a feature from which she and her team have greatly benefitted. She recalled a particular student who would consistently run away from work area; guided by Rethink Ed’s steps for intervention, she was able to identify the functions of the behavior, which were to escape and to get the teacher’s attention. She chose from suggested behavior replacements that would work best for the student and reported that four weeks later, the problem behavior had significantly reduced.

“Working with children with special needs or children in autism spectrum disorder is as beautiful as it is challenging,” said Ms. Minxhozi. She cites “finding the best ways to help students to develop their abilities and potential” as the most challenging part of their jobs and by making a wide range of comprehensive resources easily accessible, Rethink Ed has helped make that process easier. At the Regional Center for Autism in Tirana, they are excited to continue incorporating Rethink Ed into their daily teaching practices and benefiting from all the helpful tools the platform offers.