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May 8, 2012

Training for Paraprofessionals Now Required in Virginia Schools

As many school administrators, teachers, and parents have heard, the Virginia House and Senate passed House Bill 325 during the 2012 General Assembly session. This Bill requires school divisions to ensure that paraprofessionals assigned to work with teachers who have primary oversight of students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) receive training in behavior support strategies. The legislation also directs the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to outline standards to meet this mandate. 

In an effort to comply with this new legislation, as well as meet its mission of improving the knowledge and skills of educators who support someone with ASD, VCU-ACE now offers an online course for paraprofessionals. The course, Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports includes five learning modules:

• Characteristics of ASD;
• Roles and Responsibilities of the Paraprofessional;
• Foundational Instructional Practices;
• Supporting Communication and Social Skills; and
• Providing Positive Behavior Supports.

The course is available online and users are able to complete the content at a time convenient for them.  However, this is not a typical self-paced course. Participants have one month to complete the 5 learning modules.  Access to the modules is staggered across the duration of the month to help the participant devote the proper time for learning and complete the embedded learning activities.  Due to the generous grant from the VDOE, the course is currently free to Virginia residents. VCU-ACE Director of Training, Dawn Hendricks commented on the new legislation and VCU-ACE course, “Paraprofessionals are on the front lines every day with students with autism spectrum disorder and training is essential to improving educational experiences and outcomes for these students.”

In December 2011, the Commonwealth’s 132 school divisions reported 13,137 students with autism as their primary disability, a 490 percent increase since 2000. “These statistics underscore the importance of VDOE’s partnership with VCU to assist school divisions in educating and supporting children with autism spectrum disorder and preparing these students for productive and independent lives,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said.  She followed, “This new training course will equip teaching assistants, bus aides and other support staff with the knowledge and skills they need to help students with autism experience success.”

VCU-ACE Sponsors Training on the ADOS in April

One of the goals of VCU-ACE is to lower the age of identification so children on the spectrum can receive the intensive services they need at a young age. In an effort to address this goal, VCU-ACE recently sponsored a two-day workshop on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). The workshop was presented by Dr. Barbara Webb, School Psychologist and Autism Consultant.  Dr. Webb resides in Arizona and delivers ADOS training across the country.

Participants in this workshop were taught how to use the ADOS in educational assessment to assess and diagnose or determine eligibility of autism.  Instructional methods included lecture, videotaped administration and scoring, and discussion.  Participants also had the opportunity to practice scoring while observing the administration of the ADOS, and to practice administering the ADOS themselves.
Training was provided to school psychologists, administrators, and early childhood special education teachers. Although most participants were from the Newport News and Hampton Public School Divisions, many other divisions were also represented, including, the Northern Neck Regional Special Education Program, Greensville, Tazewell, Isle of Wight, Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Gloucester.  Some participants in the two-day workshop had previously received training on using a tiered model of assessment for children and students who may meet criteria for autism. "The training provided by Dr. Webb was extremely valuable and will lead to a more effective assessment process," noted a school psychologist from Newport News.

Don't Miss the VCU-ACE Summer Webcast Series – Autism Spectrum Disorder and Adulthood!

Register now for the VCU-ACE Summer Webcast Series featuring Dr. Gena Barnhill on Asperger’s Syndrome and the Transition to Adulthood: Considerations for Success; Dr. Carol Schall on Supporting Adults with ASD in the Workplace using Behavior Supports; and Dr. Paul Wehman on Transition for Youth with Autism from School to Adulthood: Critical Considerations.

Remember if you are not able to watch the live broadcasts, all VCU-ACE webcasts are archived for future viewing.  Be sure to check out the ones you might have missed! 

Check It Out -- Several New Resources for Adults and Transition Just Added to the VCU-ACE Website!

The previous OCALI Transition to Adulthood Guidelines for Individuals with ASD has been revised and formatted into a series of free web–based booklets.  Each booklet focuses on one aspect of the transition from school to adult life – IEP’s, School Programming, Age-Appropriate Transition Assessment, and Employment.

Forward Motion Coaching has released several new guides on employment, including Getting Hired: A Primer for Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome & NLD; Asperger’s Syndrome, NLD and Employment: 10 Strategies for Success; Workplace Disclosure: Strategies for Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome and NLD; and The Employer’s Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome

Brief descriptions and links to these and other resources on Transition and Adulthood can be found on the VCU-ACE website


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And be sure to check the HomePage of our website often to stay posted on current events and news relating to autism!

Henrico County Schools Work on Coaching and Tools to Support Students with Autism

Henrico County Public Schools and VCU-ACE are ending the first year of their partnership with a flurry of activity.  Henrico had previously developed an ‘Autism Classroom Rubric’ to help their administrators support teachers in educating their students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.  As part of the VCU-ACE technical assistance, the rubric is now being used as a coaching tool to assist autism specialists in the division in providing teachers with evidence-based tools in their classrooms. 

Another of the tools that Henrico has adopted is the VB-MAPP (Verbal Behavior- Milestones Assessment and Placement Program).  The VB-MAPP is currently being utilized by several school divisions in Virginia as well as many private schools.  VCU-ACE is working closely with Henrico to provide trainings and in-classroom support to assist in the adoption of this tool.  Trainings have taken place throughout the division and are currently being expanded to include paraprofessionals who work with students on the spectrum.

It’s Always Helpful to have a “Go-To Guy”!

By: Jerrie H. Adams, Director, Special Education & Student Services, Wise County Public Schools

My husband and I work long hours and have very little time at home in the evenings to take care of yard work. Because we work hard during the week, we like to keep our weekends free to have fun, like traveling, shopping, keeping the grandchildren, etc. A few weeks ago, the weather had been cold and rainy so we had to take care of the yard work on Saturday. We decided that if we started early, we could be finished by noon and still have the afternoon free. After the typical mowing and weed-eating chores were completed, I noticed a lot of weeds growing around the shrubbery. Once I started to pull the weeds, I noticed that the weed prevention lining and the pine bark mulch really needed to be replaced. Not only that, but the shrubbery was dead in some places and really needed to be replaced after 30 years of over and under-pruning. The back yard had similar problems but with less shrubbery and more perennials. We decided that this project would take several weekends of pulling out the old shrubbery, buying new plants, and installing the weed prevention liner and pine bark mulch---too overwhelming for us! I suggested that it may cost a lot more to hire someone to help us do the work but it would save us much more in time and aggravation! That evening, after a very long day of yard work, we decided to call Eddie. Eddie is our “go to guy” for any type of home repairs and he knows a little about everything, including landscaping. Our neighbor noticed us in the yard with Eddie and came over to see what project we were contemplating now. He commented that our yard looked great and he didn’t see why we would need to replace everything. Also, once his wife saw what we were doing, he would have to do the same! The end of this story is that we purchased the materials and Eddie and his brother spent 3 days accomplishing a task that would have taken us much, much longer if we had done it ourselves!

As I was thinking of our yard project on the way to work the other day for another ACE meeting, I realized that the yard project was a good analogy to our ACE project. Before we wrote the ACE grant and examined our programs, we thought we were doing very well with our students with autism ---just like we thought our yard looked fine from a distance. The children were mostly included in the general education program, the parents were happy with their child’s progress, and our teachers were receiving a lot of training on Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our neighboring counties have always been envious of the staff, programs, and services that we have been able to offer in Wise County and didn’t understand why we would want to make any changes. However, once we completed our APERS and our flaws were evident, we knew that we had a lot of work to do! Thankfully, the ACE grant provided an embedded technical assistant, Teresa Lyons---our “go to guy” for help with this enormous project we undertook. We discovered that some of our programs only needed tweaking---similar to the perennial beds in the back yard that only needed the weed protection liner and pine bark mulch replaced. However, some of our programs needed a real make-over from the roots up---like our 30 year old shrubbery. With Teresa as our guide, she has kept us on track and we have accomplished more in our first year that we ever could have ever hoped for if we had done it on our own! I am thankful that the VCU-ACE grant was available and we are on our way on an incredible journey to restructure our programs and services for our deserving students with ASD!

Thanks to Jerrie for sharing this story at the recent VCU-ACE Advisory Council Meeting and for allowing us to share it with our ENews readers!