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November 7, 2013

VCU-ACE Opens Call for Applications for Technical Assistance in Cohort 2!

The Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence (VCU-ACE) is currently requesting applications from school divisions who wish to become exemplary sites in the provision of high quality educational services and supports for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Through a competitive review process, VCU-ACE will select four to six Virginia school divisions for Technical Assistance in Cohort 2.  Successful applications will demonstrate a clearly defined strategy for long-term systemic changes across the entire school division with a clear understanding and plan for focused work in three key areas:  Divisionwide Coaching, Administrative Knowledge and Support, and Fidelity of Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices.  

VCU-ACE Technical Assistance Associates will assist selected school divisions in completing a self-assessment and facilitating a divisionwide Autism Services Improvement Team (ASIT) to develop an Autism Services Improvement Plan (ASIP).  These plans will provide additional data-based targets and define the exact technical assistance and training activities that will take place in the school division.  While school divisions will self define their own plans, VCU-ACE will help guide the development of the plans to result in systems change across the entire age range and ASD spectrum.

School divisions in the Commonwealth of Virginia that were not included in Cohort 1 are eligible to apply for Cohort 2.  Evidence must be presented in the application that demonstrates the school division’s capacity for participation as an exemplary autism site.  It is expected that applicants will engage in meaningful planning with autism stakeholders in the preparation of the application. A school division must apply as a single entity; combined division applications will not be considered.  Regional programs are encouraged to apply, however technical assistance will only address the regional program, not the practice of the cooperating divisions which the regional program serves.

Important Dates to Consider:   
    Application Available           November 1, 2013
    Application Due                   January 15, 2014
    Notice of Selection              March 1, 2014
    Division Assessment           March-April, 2014
Duration of Technical Assistance: Three years, as funding is available. 
All applications are due on January 15, 2014 by 5 pm.

The entire application is available for review and download on the VCU-ACE website or on the ASD page of the VDOE website.  For more information, contact Dr. Carol Schall at or Staci Carr at

Register NOW for the November VCU-ACE Webcast on Bullying and ASD!

Register today and plan to join us on Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at 3:30 p.m. for the airing of an informative webcast on Bullying and Autism Spectrum Disorder.  Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience difficulties in communication, interaction, and imagination, and often find the social world difficult and confusing.  Students with ASD often struggle with social norms and relating to peers. This can lead to children with ASD being picked on, tormented, and bullied. Research in public schools comparing kids with ASD to their peers finds that children with ASD are more likely to be rejected by their peers, receive less social support from their friends and classmates, spend more time alone at recess and lunch times, chat and play less with others, be verbally abused, to react aggressively, and are three times more likely to be bullied.  During this webcast, Staci Carr, Ed.M., M.S. will discuss the ways bullying happens (from teasing to cyberbullying), describe what can be done to help children cope with bullying, and provide strategies to address bullying. 

If you are unable to view this or any VCU-ACE webcast on the date it airs, remember all VCU-ACE webcasts are archived for later viewing at your convenience.



Check it Out!! New Course Schedules are Now Available for VCU-ACE Online Courses!

The schedules for two VCU-ACE online courses are now available through April 2014!  Please check our website for available dates and register soon, as classes fill quickly!  Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorder and Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder are just two of the VCU-ACE online courses available to Virginia residents for FREE!  Each course requires participation in a discussion board and successful completion of quizzes at the end of each module.  For more information about VCU-ACE online courses, contact Taryn Goodwin at



VCU-ACE “Train the Trainer” Workshop Helps Divisions Meet Training Standards for Paraprofessionals!

In addition to providing a monthly online course for paraprofessionals and limited live trainings, VCU-ACE has developed a “Train the Trainer” Model Training to help school divisions meet the requirements of H.B. 325 and insure all paraprofessionals receive training on autism spectrum disorder by September 2014.  On October 30-31, VCU-ACE provided this 2-day training to twenty participants from across Virginia.  This training will allow the participants to provide live paraprofessional training in their divisions using the materials VCU-ACE offers through its online course and live training opportunities.  The “Train the Trainer” workshop includes a review of the VCU-ACE paraprofessional training materials, information on adult learning principles, and ways to make the live training more informative and applicable.  Those participants who completed the training are now able to provide the live training to the paraprofessionals in their division.  These new trainers will also participate in follow up activities with VCU-ACE to ensure fidelity of the training and promote better application of skills for paraprofessionals.  For more information on VCU-ACE PARAPro initiatives, visit the VCU-ACE website, or contact Dr. Selena Layden at

Henrico County Public Schools and VCU-ACE Initiate Preschool Assessment and Support Project

In their second year of embedded Technical Assistance (TA), Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) staff turned to VCU-ACE TA
Associates to seek guidance on evaluating and improving quality within their preschool ASD program.   Currently, this program consists of six self-contained classrooms distributed across the division.  The students from these classrooms feed into their zone programs with the goal of needing less intensive supports on arrival.   The critical areas of improvement desired were increased independence with self-care skills, functional communication, and instructional control (the ability to follow simple directions, attend to teacher, and sit at a table for academic tasks.)
The Henrico County staff became inspired during the Community of Learning in Autism (CoLA) Summer Institute when they attended the session presented by Newport News Public Schools (NNPS) and VCU-ACE staff discussing how that division had worked the previous year on an all-school wide effort to assess their self-contained classrooms for students with ASD utilizing the Autism Program and Environment Rating Scale (APERS).  This tool lends itself quite well to examining various domains of a classroom in order to strategically plan for targeted professional development and intervention.

HCPS and VCU-ACE Technical Assistance staff have spent the first part of this school year observing each of the six preschool classrooms and gathering information from teachers, paraprofessionals, related services staff, and parents.  Staff have noted that it has been a pleasure to spend so much time with each teacher and to get to know all of the incredible young students in the program.  The process is currently in the analysis phase, and the next steps are to roll out the results with all ASD preschool staff, create individualized training and coaching plans for each teacher in areas in which they chose to focus, and to provide other training opportunities to various staff on targeted evidence-based practices.  

The positive effects of this robust project will expand into HCPS elementary schools and beyond as these students with higher levels of independence and pre-academic skills will be able to reach their maximum potential in future grades.  Kudos to Henrico County Public Schools for making such a difference for their students with Autism!

Wise County Public Schools Share Their November “Autism Tip of the Month!”

The “Wise County Autism Tip of the Month” is one of many ongoing products that the Wise County Autism Services Improvement Team (ASIT) has developed with the goal of systems-change for all students with ASD in their division.  This monthly tip is sent by the team to all school administrators and special education teachers.  For the month of November, the division’s autism coaches sent out a summary of some of the most important things that they have learned along the intensive systems-change journey that started a little over two years ago with the VCU-ACE Technical Assistance grant.  Thank you Wise County Public Schools for sharing your November “Tip of the Month!”

“The monthly tip for November is actually a reflection on the ‘Top Fifteen’ most important things we have learned since we began our journey to improve services to students with autism a little over two years ago.  Along the way, we have discovered that all of our students have benefited from the sharpening of our skills.  This list was created by the autism coaches. 
1.  The first visual support that should be considered is the arrangement of the room.  Make sure that physical boundaries are clear   to support structure.
2.  Everyone needs a schedule. This is a life skill.
3.  Before prompting, have a plan for fading prompts.
4.  Be quiet! Verbal prompts are the most difficult to fade.  Choose other options when appropriate and avoid pairing verbal prompts with other prompts.
5.  Teach social skills lessons with the end in mind.  Plan the teaching of social skills just as you would an academic area.  Look at the long range goal; do a task analysis of what you need to get there;  teach each step or skill required systematically; and finally, bring them together and help your student meet his/her goal.
6.  All goals should include a baseline, if progress is to be measured.
7.  Data should drive all of our decisions.
8.  “A picture speaks a thousand words,” so graph it.
9.  When teaching communication, begin with mands (requests.)
10. The VB-MAPP is an awesome tool for assessing the communication skills of our students and provides a road map for teaching new skills.
11.  Errorless teaching works and it can be implemented in all settings.
12.  Transition begins with the first IEP.
13.  Literacy is for everyone.
14.  Reinforcement is a powerful force that is always at work (either for us or against us.) Make it work for you.
15.  Teaming and systematic planning are essential to effectively addressing   the learning and behavioral needs of our students.

Thank you for working hard to make sure our kids have the best!!!!!”