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Archived News: Across Virginia
December 2013

Virginia Autism Research Survey Announced!

Research Study: The Impacts of Access to the Least Restrictive Academic Environment for Academic and Career Goal Attainment for Students with High Functioning Autism as Reported by their Parents.

Being conducted as part of dissertation research, this study is an investigation into how access to inclusive educational environments may or may not impact the academic and career goal attainment of high school student's with high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Please visit the facebook page of Virginia Autism Research for more information. This is a statewide effort so anyone, especially in the regions of the Commonwealth that may not have a support structure, are encouraged to participate in this study.

Click here for the link to the survey.
Two $75 Target gift cards will be raffled off to parents who complete a questionnaire.

Contact Laura Harris, MEd., PhD(c), Division of Special Education and disAbility Research, George Mason University at for more information.


Working Smarter Not Harder – The Benefits of Professional Learning Communities

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are becoming more commonplace within many school divisions as school personnel strive for improvement and to keep up with the demands of an ever-changing educational landscape. The characteristics of successful PLCs include: collaboration, desire to learn, willingness to take on tasks to increase group learning, respecting and valuing the opinions of colleagues, and a drive to grow professionally. Being a part of a PLC can have many benefits. It can reduce feelings of isolation and enhance understanding of content material and evidence-based practices used with students with autism spectrum disorder. It can also result in strong collegial bonds between co-workers.

Over the past 2 years, several of the divisions in which VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associates are embedded have implemented a variety of PLCs to meet the professional development needs of their educational staff who serve children and youth with ASD. These groups were initially jointly led by VCU- ACE and division staff; however, divisions have now taken over total responsibility to sustain and even expand them. PLCs are located in the all of our divisions: Botetourt, Wise, Newport News, Hampton, Henrico, Greensville, Richmond, Arlington, and NNRSEP. A few highlights from selected divisions include:

Two PLCs are available for participation in Newport News. The first targets social skills and social competence at the middle and high school level. A team of approximately 10 teachers and specialists get together to discuss social skill lesson planning and special events, and to problem solve social skill issues present for many adolescents with ASD. The second PLC addresses evidence-based practices (EBPs). This group of educators works diligently to develop materials, train other staff, and provide support to others who teach individuals with ASD.

Henrico County is developing social skills classes for students with ASD at the middle school level. The two pilot programs implementing this intervention have developed a PLC to provide information to assist other educators to develop similar programs.

In Greensville, autism specialists have developed a paraprofessional PLC to provide training and an opportunity for paraprofessionals to problem solve and learn new strategies and practices for working with students with ASD.

Arlington City has developed a PLC to support the use of both a Social Skills Inventory and the use of assistive technology for their Speech Language Pathologists.

The consensus among all VCU-ACE divisions is that Professional Learning Communities provide a venue for collaboration, training, and problem solving. In addition, there is great value in collaborating with other professionals who share a given situation and similar interest. In the case of educators serving students with ASD, the PLC model has allowed people who are interested in a specific topic (e.g. social skills, evidence based practice, communication) to develop their skills in collaboration with their peers.


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