Programs for Autistic, PDD and PDD/NOS

Program

Program Definition and Curriculum

At the Children’s Center we recognize that the educational needs of each child are different, thus we utilize a variety of teaching strategies that help our students achieve the objectives set forth in his or her Individual Educational Plan.

Research has shown that the most effective way to teach students with Autism is through a discrete trial or ABA teaching paradigm. This provides the highly structured environment that is so critical for a student’s success. Our use of positive reinforcement and errorless learning methods assist each student in reaching their maximum level of learning. These methods reach far beyond academics and are incorporated into an array of activities throughout the school day such as; communication, play, socialization, activities of daily living and vocational sessions. Other employed methods include; visual strategies, environmental considerations, visual structure of the environment, alternatives to verbal communication, social skills training, sensory opportunities, consistency, and functional communication.

Learning occurs in a variety of environments which range from highly structured, distraction free, one to one sessions to small group settings which promote generalization of acquired skills. Because each task is broken down into their smaller components, students are provided with the repetitive exposure needed to learn the skill, as well as, a profusion of positive reinforcement.

All students have personal Strategy Binders which describe and maps out their educational program. Strict data is collected daily and analyzed to ensure a current profile is maintained. With this tool, we can efficiently modify methods and materials for any challenging program.

Visual Strategies:

Students with autism perform best when their daily routine is predictable, with clear expectations.

Establishing and following a visual schedule eliminates the unexpected and assists students in anticipating and preparing for transitions. Schedules must be visual and kept in the same location at all times. For pre-readers, an object schedule can be used. A tangible object that is related to the class or activity it represents is attached to an icon and the printed word. Other students are able to follow an icon schedule and strong readers can use a printed schedule.
A “check schedule” transition cue is then given to the student each time he is to transition to a new activity or class.

Environmental Considerations

Visual and auditory stimulation in the classroom must be taken into consideration.

Many student with autism are sensitive to auditory input and have a more difficult time processing auditory stimulation. Their work stations should be placed away from excessive auditory stimulation and away from unnecessary movement.

Visual Structure

The Children’s Center takes into consideration the environmental needs of our students. The environment needs to be structured visually to help the student clearly see and understand what is expected of him. Our work stations are clearly defined. Some students will need three-sided work stations, while others will be able to work in more open areas. Our activities are designed with strong visual cues so less auditory directions are needed. Each station clearly shows what needs to be done, how much needs to be done, when the student will be finished, and what’s next.

Alternatives to Verbal Communication

Many students with autism have impairments in communication, particularly expressive communication. For those who are non-verbal, an augmentative communication system must be in place. The Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) has been very effective. Voice output communication devices may be very appropriate. For those students who do have verbal communication skills, many benefit from having some form of augmentative communication available as a back-up system for times when expressive communication may fail them. It is very common for students to be unable to access verbal communication when in a stressful emotional state. Having a back-up visual form of communication can assist with expression and reduce aggressive behaviors. The Children’s Center of Monmouth County has an extensive library of augmentative devices to trial with our students.

Direct Instruction of Social Skills

The majority of students with autism need direct instruction in social skills. Most do not learn interaction skills by simply being placed in social environments. They need to learn social interaction skills in the same way they learn other academic skills. Using strong visual structure, activities can be designed to teach about identifying emotions in self and others, situations that can cause certain emotions, and how to respond in certain social situations. Our speech therapists and teachers use Social Stories to teach these skills. They are short stories written about specific social situations that briefly describe a social situation, how others may respond in this situation, and how the student should respond.

Sensory Opportunities

Most students with autism have some sensory needs. Many find deep pressure very relaxing. Others need frequent opportunities for movement. Many of our students have a sensory profile completed by their occupational therapist. Based on the profile, a sensory “diet” is created and implemented throughout the day.

Consistency

All students do best when the daily program remains consistent with clear expectations. All of our staff working with students with autism are well-trained and implement the daily program as consistently as possible.

Functional Curriculum

Students with autism have a great deal of potential to live and work independently as adults. Our program places a strong emphasis on following a functional curriculum. Skills that emphasize daily living skills, community skills, recreation and leisure and employment are incorporated into the curriculum. Students who are higher functioning can follow the regular curriculum, but emphasis is also placed on those skills that are the most functional. Functional academics include literacy (reading and writing), basic math, and time and money skills. Self-care skills, domestics, recreation and community experiences are emphasized. Students who are 14 and older have formal job sampling opportunities.

Integrated Preschool

A full day integrated preschool is another program option. Eight neurotypical preschoolers attend The Children’s Center. These students are enrolled in a class with eight students from the program who have met the criteria for placement in this integrated program. The classroom follows a regular preschool curriculum and uses a work station approach to learning. The student-to-staff ratio for this classroom will never exceed 4 to 1. One of the primary goals of this program is to have the student eventually return to a less restrictive environment in their neighborhood school.

Home Training Component

Our Home Training Program is an extension of the services provided to our students; it is designed to bridge the gap between the school program and life at home.

Home Trainers work with families to develop solutions in conjunction with the student’s school-based collaboration team. Techniques and strategies implemented in the home need to be closely related to those used in the classroom in order to maximize their success and promote consistency.

Home Training is a situational service. Children’s Center is committed to providing on-going support for their students and their families. Families are able to request Home Training as different needs arise.

A Home Trainer is assigned to consult with the family once a month for a period of two to three months. The initial visits consist of your trainer bringing information, supplies, or materials from school and explaining, modeling, and demonstrating techniques as suggested by the collaboration team. Follow-up visits will consist of technique review, trouble-shooting, and observation of the techniques in use. Home Training progress is measured by the parent/ family’s ability to use and apply the suggested strategies.