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December 4, 2013

Holiday Tips for Navigating the Busy Season

As the holidays approach, VCU-ACE hopes the following weblinks to tip sheets and ideas for navigating the busy season will be helpful to you and your family!

20 Tips on “Making the Most of the Holidays for Your Family and Your Son/Daughter on the Autism Spectrum
Contributed by Cathy Pratt, Ph.D., BCBA, Director, Indiana Resource Center for Autism

Autism and the Holidays: Sensory Overload
Tips for how to prepare children with autism for the holiday season and on making the holidays more fun for everyone involved, provided by Rowland P. Barrett, PhD, Director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at Bradley Hospital.

Holiday Tips - Helping Parents of Kids with Autism Handle the Unique Challenges of the Holiday Season
Autism Speaks shares holiday tips provided by medical experts, educators, and families of kids with autism.

An Update from the VCU-ACE Communication State Goal Committee! Check Out the New Webpages!!

VCU-ACE and our collaborators have been hard at work and making great progress on all three of the identified State Goals:  Communication, Administrator Support, and Transition.  In recent months, the Communication State Goal Committee has completed and launched new web pages specific to communication and students with ASD.  The web pages include information on why it is important to teach communication, what to teach in the area of communication, assessments for communication, modes of communication, functions of communication, and much more.  Additional pages will be added as the committee continues to move forward with goal work.  Please take a few minutes and visit the new Communication Resource pages on our website to learn more about improving communication skills with students with ASD.

Don’t Miss the Informative VCU-ACE webcasts airing December 2013 – February 2014!!

Details on Upcoming Webcasts:

December 10, 2013
Sexuality Instruction and Learners with ASD by Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D.
On completion of this webcast, participants will be able to:
*Provide an overview of the components of sexuality education.
*Recognize the importance of sexuality education as one component of community safety training.
*Recognize some the challenges to effective sexuality education specific to learners on the autism spectrum.

January 14, 2014
Inclusion: Making the Marriage Work by Barbara Webb, Ed. D.
Our goal in education must be to create a rich educational setting for all children. Special Education was originally designed as a "resource" to educational programs, not as a separate placement. Research indicates that removing children from their typical peers, undermines their capacity to learn the skills that will enable them to belong. Statistics from the CDC show a dramatic rise in autism; therefore, we must prepare our inclusive classrooms to create the educational setting to address the needs of these children. This presentation will discuss the learning differences of children with autism and how to embed specific teaching strategies into the curriculum.

February 11, 2014
Inclusion: Making the Marriage Work - Part 2 by Barbara Webb, Ed. D.
All children are able to learn, just not in the same way. Autism is an information-processing difference that affects: communication, social interaction, sensory response, and learning and thinking. In part 1, we discussed academic strategies for the classroom. This presentation will address strategies for the unstructured time within the school day, environmental supports, social supports, and communication supports.  Dr. Webb will also discuss strategies for managing behavioral challenges.

To register for these and additional webcasts, visit the VCU-ACE website.  If you are unable to view these or any VCU-ACE webcast on the initial air date, remember all VCU-ACE webcasts are archived for later viewing at your convenience.

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.