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March 9, 2012

VCU-ACE Online Paraprofessional Course will Launch on April 2nd!

VCU-ACE is pleased to announce the launch of a new online course on April 2, 2012.  The course, Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports, consists of five modules and will cover information on characteristics of ASD, responsibilities of paraprofessionals, social and communication supports, strategies for working with students with ASD, and behavior support. This course is designed to provide paraprofessionals working in schools with the skills and knowledge needed to support students with ASD in the school setting. Extension activities are also provided to help with application of skills.  

Although intended for paraprofessionals, this course may be appropriate for other support personnel such as bus drivers and assistants, cafeteria monitors, hallway monitors, school nurses, resource teachers (physical education, music, art), librarians, computer lab personnel, and office personnel.  The course incorporates many of the competencies outlined by the Skill Competencies for Professionals and Paraprofessionals in Virginia Supporting Individuals with Autism Across the Lifespan  developed by the Virginia Autism Council.   

While the course is self-paced, each session will start at the beginning of each month and close on the final day of the month. Participants will have one month to complete the 5 modules and will earn a Certificate of Completion after they have reviewed all content and scored a minimum of 80% on each of the five quizzes. Registration is now open for the April course session, which will run from April 2 to April 30. This online course is free of charge and is currently only available to residents of Virginia.  Please share this information and help VCU-ACE spread the word about this new opportunity for paraprofessionals in Virginia! 

VCU-ACE Screening and Diagnosis Taskforce Gives Final Report

On Thursday, March 1, 2012, the VCU ACE Screening and Diagnosis Taskforce gathered for their third and final meeting.  Approximately twenty members of the taskforce met in Richmond that afternoon to review and discuss findings from the subcommittees on Screening, Diagnosis, and Systems Change.  In addition to the original VCU-ACE Taskforce members, individuals from the state Act Early group, led by Samantha Hollins of the Virginia Department of Education, were included in the discussion.  Subcommittee leaders presented data collected from service providers and families across the state. These data were used to facilitate a discussion about the current practices in Virginia regarding the screening and diagnosis of individuals with ASD as well as practices within school systems in regard to the eligibility of students with ASD for special education services.  In closing, each subcommittee presented recommendations for practice, which will be summarized and organized in a formal document in the weeks to come. 

SAPDC Meets in February

The State Autism Professional Development Consortium is led by VCU-ACE and is comprised of representatives from institutes of higher education throughout the state. The Consortium works to identify concerns surrounding professional development in higher education for preservice and inservice educators serving students with ASD and to collaborate to advance coursework and programs and ensure accessibility for all stakeholders. The SAPDC met on February 29, 2012 to discuss initiatives related to professional development in ASD transpiring at colleges and universities throughout the Commonwealth. There were 9 members in attendance representing 6 different universities, colleges, and community colleges including VCU, Radford, Mary Baldwin, Lynchburg, JSRCC, and Longwood.

News from the VCU-ACE Training Division ...

New Online Behavior Course Will Launch April 9th – Registration Open Soon!

It is with great enthusiasm that VCU-ACE is announcing the launch of the Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders course.  This course is the first of five four week courses that are currently under development at VCU-ACE.  When complete, these courses will replace the ten week Educating Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders course previously offered. 

The four week facilitated Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders is geared toward educators who support students with ASD.  This includes special education teachers, general education teachers, and therapists. The course is also appropriate for parents or others who want to learn more about positive behavior supports. The course will examine a vast array of behavioral components to enhance the understanding of the interfering behavior often presented by individuals with ASD. The first module of the course will examine and define interfering behavior and its relationship to the core deficits associated with ASD.   An understanding of how and why behavior develops will be conveyed.  Additionally, the module will examine how to provide support in a variety of environments while approaching the interfering behavior using a functional approach.  The second module of the course will begin a discussion about the use of functional behavior assessment and behavior intervention planning to intervene with interfering behaviors.  Reinforcement of behavior will be thoroughly examined as a discussion unfolds regarding the replacement of interfering behavior with appropriate and acceptable behavior. The course will peel away the layers of behavior to assist providers and family members with knowledge and strategies to understand why behavior occurs and how and when to intervene.

Registration for the Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders  course will open March 12, 2012.


VCU-ACE Website News …

More for Paraprofessionals!

A PARAPro section has recently been added to the VCU-ACE website.  VCU-ACE is excited about the Paraprofessionals in Autism Resource and Achievement Project and will be continuing to develop resources and professional development activities around this initiative. Please be sure to check back frequently to gather more information and to participate in these activities.


New Resources Just Added to VCU-ACE Website!

Visit the VCU-ACE Resources pages to access these 2 new documents:  Do Sheltered Workshops Enhance Employment Outcomes for Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder? (Cimera, R., Wehman, P., West, M. & Burgess, S., 2012) and "A Parent's Guide to Evidence-Based Practice and Autism" published by the National Autism Center.

From the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Divisions …

Exciting Progress Reported from Arlington Public Schools!
Arlington Public Schools (APS) has been diligently working to achieve systems-change in the area of autism spectrum disorders, and their recent progress has been exciting and impressive!  One of the goals the division has been focusing on is promoting opportunities for structured social skills instruction across the division.  To achieve this, APS has been engaged in a multi-faceted approach involving strengthening the links from both “Assessment to IEP” as well as “IEP to Instruction.” 

To help support the link from “Assessment to IEP”, the Autism Services Improvement Team has worked to adapt the scope and sequence guide “Moving Toward Functional Social Competence,” originally developed by the Minnesota Region 10 Low Incidence Autism Spectrum Disorder ProjectThe main adaptations have involved converting the assessment into an electronic version that can easily be shared among staff and families, and facilitating the identification of goals through visual representation of the data.  Currently, the assessment has begun to be piloted with four teams in settings from Preschool through the Career Center in order to gain constructive feedback on how the tool can be best used within each team’s setting.  As these pilots finish up through the next month, APS will be looking to spread the tool to other sites before the end of the school year, and also give back to the larger autism community across the state.  Stay tuned for an exciting new tool in the coming months!

As part of their comprehensive plan to promote social skills instruction throughout the division, APS has also been focusing on building supports to assist with moving from “IEP to Instruction”.  Further adaptations are being made to the electronic assessment to include links from each assessment item to each of the lessons in the division’s library of social skills curricula. In this way, staff will be able to more quickly access relevant lessons and move into providing instruction without having to spend as much time sorting through resources.  While the teams in the division are happy because this support will definitely make instruction a little easier, APS is most excited about the benefits for students.  The increase in responsiveness of social skills instruction to each student’s individual learning needs can only serve to further enrich their educational experience.

Click here to view a “mini-presentation” of this initiative and other projects on which APS is working.

Communities of Learning in Autism “CoLAs” are Now Meeting State-Wide

According to Etienne Wenger (2006), communities of practice are groups of people who share a passion for something they do and who interact regularly to learn how to do it better.  The focus is to create a space where individuals of similar commitment and shared expertise can work together to share knowledge and information, while supporting one another in joint activities and discussions.

Autism Specialists and Division Autism Leaders in Virginia are now gathering in regional CoLA meetings to network and share resources.  VCU-ACE is excited to be collaborating with the VDOE T/TACs and other regional agencies to facilitate these discussions.  CoLAs are uniquely designed for division specialists who are working in a leadership capacity in autism.  Leaders in autism are those individuals who provide training, consultation, or coaching to teachers and others in the division.

In addition to identifying needs and future goals, CoLA meetings also include: autism updates from VDOE; training and technical assistance opportunities through the VCU-ACE and the T/TACs; “Learning Boost” activities on specific topics of interest to autism leaders; discussions on opportunities for professional development; and networking among autism specialists.  Please contact Becky Boswell, VCU-ACE Outreach Coordinator, at for more information on the CoLA in your region.

International Attention Given to Loudoun County Schools NPDC Grant Implementation

Loudoun County Public Schools, in collaboration with the VDOE Region 4 T-TAC, recently hosted international visitors from Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia to learn a process for implementing evidenced based practices (EBPs) for students with autism as developed by the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) in Autism Spectrum Disorders.  One of three divisions initially selected within the Commonwealth, Loudoun County Schools is in year two of successful implementation of an NPDC grant.  Loudoun County Autism Program Specialist, Rosemarie McGuinness, says of the division’s involvement in the grant. “This process has given us a systematic and comprehensive training tool for implementing evidence-based practices and ensuring the fidelity of these practices with our staff.  We have seen positive outcomes with our students as a result of using this process.”  Guests were able to observe multiple classrooms where the NPDC process, including program quality measures, EBP resources, and coaching tools, is being used and to examine data displaying the significant positive student outcomes that have resulted.  With the launch of the VDOE VCU Autism Center for Excellence (VCU-ACE) and expansion of technical assistance available, more school divisions throughout the state have been able to access and utilize the NPDC model.  For more information about NPDC and the resources it offers, click here.