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My school district is in the process of starting 2 new autism classes (Pre-k & K-2). I am interested in the perspectives of other educators related to what constitutes an exceptional program. If possible include information about curriculum, classroom set up, technology, methodology, staff/student ratio and anything else that you consider an essential component.

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Hubby told me that you started this group and suggested that I join, since it is in my area of edtech expertise.
I represent a company that produces a web based tool developed by the Monarch Center for Autism in Shaker Heights Ohio. The tool, VizZle, provides teachers with the power to create and share lessons using visual learning supports....that can either be printed out or run as interactive lessons. EduPLN members can check out VizZle at www.monarchteachtech.com and sign up for the FREE 14 day trial...please make note in the comments section that you heard about this on the EduPLN and this will automatically be increased to a 60 day free trial. Please consider me a resource in helping teachers to tap into the power of technology to meet the needs of students with special needs... Contact me directly with any questions jwhitby@monarchtt.com ..
I also started a classroom for students with moderate to intensive special needs about three years ago. This is a difficult endeavor, but so rewarding and worthwhile...

Curriculum- We use a Blended Method Model as suggested by the Achievement Centers for Children in the Northeast Ohio area. The Blended Method Model means you can pull pieces from different methods based on what you feel is best for your specific students. For example, with one student with autism, I use the Harcourt Intervention Series that accompanies our general ed. curriculum for typical second graders. I do have to remake all assessments or worksheets however so that my student can choose answers receptively rather than give expressive answers. I also have to limit writing and increase visuals. For great visuals, we use BoardMaker Plus v.6 AND Google Images. Others methods that we use are the TEACCH methodology, DIR Floortime model, some (but few) aspects of ABA therapy, and Sensory Integration. For actual curriculum programs, I pull from these sources: Harcourt Intervention Series, Reading A-Z, Vocabulary A-Z, Science A-Z, The Learning Program, Touch Math, The Stevenson Reading Program, and Reading Rocks.

Classroom Set Up- My 100% advice would be to get trained in the TEACCH Methodology.

Technology- In our classroom, we've been fortunate to make this a priority. I truly believe that technology will someday improve the lives of our students, make their lives easier, and help them become contributing members of our community. Because of this, and due to district funds and many grants, we are lucky to have 6 desktop computers with headphones or speakers, 3 touch screens, SMARTboard, overhead projector, access to an ELMO doc cam, 1 Flip Cam, 2 Tag Readers, and 2 Leapsters within our classroom. Two of our students also have their own AAC devices- a Dynavox Xpress and a PRC Springboard Lite.

Student/Staff Ratio- Your staffing will depend on how you plan to "include" the students in the "regular classes." Because I have 9 students with moderate/intensive special needs (autism, Down syndrome, genetic disorders, etc.) in grades K-3, I don't leave the "resource room" very often. So, I use "individual special education aides" to push my students into the regular ed. classrooms. Depending on the students, I push in for science, social studies and all specials (music, P.E., art, media center, and computer lab). I believe that in the early grades, most students can (and should) also be included for at least 50% of language arts. Currently, with 9 students, I have one aide that stays with me all day and 6 special ed. aides that go "out" with students all day.

Another essential components- Make sure you know your stuff when it comes to integrating sensory activities and how to solve behavior issues. Also, be aware that sometimes behavior issues are really just a need for more sensory activities. ;)

Lastly, parent communication is probably the #1 thing that has made for a successful program in our building. Because of our special education aides, I've been able to implement a Daily Report that goes home with each student every day. This can be as simple as a checklist or as complicated as a paragraph of text on what happened during the day, what the student ate, if/when the student had bowel movements during the day, who the student interacted with during the day, what therapies occurred that day, etc., etc., etc. This has helped TREMENDOUSLY.

Hope this helps. :) If you find more advice, please share!
Thanks, sounds like you have a great class. I have heard of TEACCH but do not know that much about it. I am projecting 3 computers and and a SMARTboard in each room. What software do you use? Also, how do you use the flip cam?

Lastly, how are you able to incorporate ABA, TEACCH and DIR? It has been my experience that many people feel that DIR and ABA are conflicting approaches. Personally, based on what I've read I could see how they could work together. For instance, I've read about ABA approaches that are referred to as "naturalistic" or "play-based"; this seems to be similar to DIR-Floortime. What is your perspective?
Well, I like to think I have a great class, but it really comes down to the support you get from your whole team- your aides, your SLP, the OT, PT, Music Therapist, your principal, school psych., the parents, etc., etc... My struggle is always in finding the time to train my whole "team" in the many methodologies and technologies that I want to use in the classroom...

TEACCH is a great great method for kids with moderate to intensive special needs. Its methodology focuses on some main questions and structure to your classroom. Small, organized, and visually defined spaces with minimal visual distractions are the base of the methodology. The three main questions that you want to structure each one of your lessons around and make clear to the student are: 1. What work will I do? 2. How will I know it's done? 3. What comes next?

If you use those 3 questions, you set up all work tables in a left to right progression. In a one to one teacher table, the teacher would sit to the left of the student, show the student the work that they will do, show the student the end of the work, and then show the student visually what will happen next (using a visual schedule). On the right side of the student, you have a box or basket set up called the "All Done Box" where all finished work or papers go when completed. In an independent work station, the student would have a visual schedule on the left of work to do, and would take work from the left, complete it, and put it in the "All Done Box" on the right. Only work that has been mastered at the teacher table should be put into the independent work station. Usually work like "file folder tasks" or "shoe box tasks" go in the Independent Work Station. (Here's a link to our Classroom Homepage- on the front page at the right, you will find many File Folder websites. If you go to the Teaching Strategies tab, you can find more info. on TEACCH- http://www.protopage.com/morgankolis.)

Honestly, TEACCH is the backbone of our program and I really enjoy using it.

We use a SMARTboard regularly with the SMART Notebook software. There are tons of pre-made lessons, but you can create your own too. It's also great for playing games online and working on taking turns. We also had 2 "Wii" afternoons this past school year where we worked on gross motor skills, taking turns, game playing skills, social language, etc., etc., etc. The SMARTboard and it's uses are AMAZING. Here are some great lists of resources for your SMARTboard to get you started-

http://www.protopage.com/smartbees#SmartBees/Resources

http://www.protopage.com/chippewalrc#LRC/Teacher_Resources_Tech.

Our Flip Cam has become a great tool for us as well. I use the Flip Cam as my main camera now and cut video into snapshots when needed. I make an end of the year video each year with pictures from our school year and this Flip Cam has helped capture some photos that a regular camera wouldn't (i.e. my special ed. kids don't always want to smile at the exact time the camera is taking the picture and with the Flip Cam, I can video them, then cut out the snapshot when they smile or laugh). We also have taped our students in multiple settings for their future teachers to make transitions a little smoother. We've also been able to video students completing tasks at the beginning of the school year and then video them again at the end to show progress. We've suggested this for Oral Reading Fluency throughout the school building as well. Lastly, our Flip Cam is used as a reward for one student who is a social butterfly. If she has finished her work, she is allowed to take the camera and record her "friends" that work in the office. They love her so she records while they give her stickers and hugs. :)

About ABA and DIR floortime-
I am extremely reluctant to say that I use any ABA therapies although they are thoroughly researched and highly recommended by many professionals. In my experiences, I find a strict ABA program to be a bit cold and void of building relationships. Please know that I am not trying to bash any therapies and know that this is only my experience in a very small town in suburban Northeast Ohio. I truly believe that different therapies work for different students and none of our techniques can really be a One Size Fits All approach anyway, but I choose not to adhere to a strict ABA approach. I do believe in behavior modification and think that behaviors can be shaped, faded, thinned, etc. I believe that repetition helps our students learn and grasp concepts. I believe that structure also needs to be provided to our kids. But again, a strict ABA program, I have not.

This is how I would describe our approach... We use a multi-sensory approach with direct instruction, small group instruction, and collaborative student groups. We pull from research done in the areas of ABA, DIR, TEACCH, but custom fit each lesson to fit the needs of the student. We incorporate sensory based activities for all students, but increase the duration or intensity based on the needs. We work on social skills and identifying feelings daily. We also work on play skills while trying to draw out language in the Play-Doh area, sand table, carpet time, sensory table (DIR approach)...

I guess I never realized before how hard it really is to define the methods of a special education program until I just tried to write that paragraph. I can't give you a definitive answer because... it's different for every student I've ever worked with. I'm pretty sure that, as special ed. teachers, we should know ALL the methods so that we can custom fit the program to the student and not vice versa...

What are your thoughts Ray? Do you favor one method over another right now? Will you be the teacher in one of the rooms or administrator?

Here's also the link of our classroom blog which I mainly use for parents- http://staff.bbhcsd.org/kolism.
Thanks again for sharing your insights! Related to your questions, I'm an administrator (Director of Special Services) and I do not have a favorite method. I agree with you, methodology/approach is dependent upon each individual student. That being said, our new programs (pre-k and k-2) will follow an ABA based approach. This is due to a few reasons. First, the students that we are bringing back into district are in ABA based programs and have experienced success. Secondly, a very large percentage of the programs in my area of NJ are ABA based. This is not the case throughout other parts of NJ.

Lastly, as I have spoken to many ABA experts I have come to understand that ABA is much broader than discreet trial teaching. I think when most people think of ABA they think of discreet trial teaching. I was guilty of this myself before I began researching programs. I've viewed many ABA classrooms that are warm, nurturing and look like any other enriching classroom environment.

Some proponents of ABA, however, frequently consider ABA to be the only effective approach. This of course is inaccurate at best and potentially damaging at worst.

We have had several parent meetings so far getting ready for our new program. A statement that typifies parental perspectives in my area can be captured in the following quote from one of my parent meetings " you're either a Met fan or a Yankee fan". I replied, actually I don't like the Mets or the Yankees, I'm a just a baseball fan.

In short, I want to ensure that every student is successful. The best thing about new our program is that our students will be educated with their peers in their home school.

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