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Educating Children with Autism (2001)

Chapter: 14 Personnel Preparation

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Suggested Citation:"14 Personnel Preparation." National Research Council. 2001. Educating Children with Autism. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/10017.
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14 Personnel Preparation NEED FOR A SUPPORT INFRASTRUCTURE The nature of autistic spectrum disorders and other disabilities that frequently accompany them has significant implications for approaches to education and intervention at school, in the home, and in the commu- nity. As might be expected in a field with different philosophies and instructional strategies, there is also diversity in the approaches to per- sonnel preparation. Approaches vary from preservice university models in a traditional special education program to mentoring in a major treat- ment center, where instruction is provided by psychologists, psychia- trists, special educators, speech and language pathologists, and others. Fundamental questions include: Who should receive special instruc- tion? Who should provide special instruction? What should the content of the program be? Where should this instruction take place? Approaches that emphasize specific “packages” may be particularly efficient, but they may understate the immediate and long-term needs of individual stu- dents with autistic spectrum disorders for behavior support and for in- struction across areas. However, it is encouraging that there are models of personnel preparation programs in place within state systems and some universities, and, as indicated in the previous chapters, a wealth of knowl- edge about educational interventions in autistic spectrum disorders from which to draw. The challenge for states and communities and the chil- dren and families they are serving is to choose and implement effective approaches for personnel preparation, beyond a single training effort, to provide a continuum of services across time. 183

184 EDUCATING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM Teachers must be familiar with theory and research concerning best practices for children with autistic spectrum disorders, including meth- ods of applied behavior analysis, naturalistic learning, incidental teach- ing, assistive technology, socialization, communication, inclusion, adap- tation of the environment, language interventions, assessment, and the effective use of data collection systems. Specific problems in generaliza- tion and maintenance of behaviors also affect the need for training in methods of teaching children with autistic spectrum disorders. The wide range of IQ scores and verbal skills associated with autistic spectrum disorders, from profound mental retardation and severe language im- pairments to superior intelligence, make the need for training of person- nel even greater. To enable teachers to adequately work with parents and with other professionals to set appropriate goals, teachers need familiar- ity with the course of autism and the range of possible outcomes. Effective programming for children with autism and their families requires that the direct service provider (e.g., special education teacher, regular education teacher, early childhood teacher, speech and language pathologist) be a part of a support system team, not an isolated indi- vidual, that is struggling with complex neurological, sociological, educa- tional, and behavioral problems. What is needed is a support infrastruc- ture that can provide the direct service provider with the needed assistance (Gallagher and Clifford, 2000). Just as a physician in medicine is surrounded by an infrastructure of specialists, laboratories, medical schools, support personnel, and pharmaceutical research, a program for children with autistic spectrum disorders should have the various ele- ments of infrastructure noted in Box 14.1. As shown in the box, there is a need for personnel preparation to produce qualified teachers and support staff and to provide technical assistance to answer problems faced by local practitioners, as well as to generate research, enhance communica- tion, and support demonstration projects. As discussed earlier in the report, prevalence estimates of autistic spectrum disorders reflect con- tinuing increases in the number of children who need services. The Twen- tieth Annual Report to Congress from the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education (OSEP) (1999:III-I) announced, “There is a serious shortage of special education teachers.” Finding certified teachers in special education has always been an uphill struggle. If there is a shortage in general special education, that shortage is even more serious in the growing field of autistic spectrum disorders. Without an accurate data system in and across states, no one knows how many specialists are being trained, how many training pro- grams are operational, or the professional disciplines that are involved. Of concern is not only the preparation of special education teachers or early interventionists, but also that of school psychologists, speech pa- thologists, behavior analysts, occupational and physical therapists, and

PERSONNEL PREPARATION 185 BOX 14-1 Elements of a Support Infrastructure Personnel There is need for continuous flow of qualified Preparation personnel. To that end, there needs to be a series of training programs and experiences directed at preservice and inservice needs. Technical Many professionals and programs run into Assistance situations related to autism that cause them to seek additional professional help. Programs of technical assistance are designed to provide consultation and short-term training to meet the needs of the requester. Applied There is a strong need to be reflective about our Research and own performance as part of a strategy of continuous Program improvement. Public calls for accountability stress Evaluation the importance of developing the proper tools and measuring instruments and personnel to conduct effective program evaluation. Communication It is important to establish a communications network sothat there is continuous contact with other professionals who are working on the same or similar problems. It is a way of keeping up with the latest knowledge and practices. Demonstration One of the strategies that has been often used to improve program quality is to identify outstanding programs, establish them as demonstration centers, and then urge other professionals to observe and e mulate what is happening in those centers or programs that could be transferred to their own program. Data Systems There are many important policy questions that cannot be answered without an organized data system. Questions such as, “How many children with autism are there?” or “How many teachers are needed?” can only be addressed if one has a data system to compile the demographics of the individuals or programs. Comprehensive One of the key aspects of an infrastructure is the Planning ability to do comprehensive statewide planning and to be able to allocate resources over time and in a systematic manner to more easily reach the goals of the program. SOURCE: Gallagher and Clifford (2000).

186 EDUCATING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM other professionals who fill important roles in the treatment programs of children with autistic spectrum disorders. Special education statistics on the number of children with autism that are being served are available (OSEP, 1999), but it is not clear how accurate they are, given that school systems vary in the degree to which their classification systems have reflected the broadening of diagnostic criteria for autistic spectrum disorders in the last ten years. Without comprehensive planning and estimates, it will not be possible to allocate the proper amounts of personnel and fiscal resources. Personnel prepara- tion has become an increasingly well-publicized issue as the number of children identified with autistic spectrum disorders has increased and their special needs have become more evident. Despite the widespread acceptance of the importance of an infrastructure to support the service delivery system, however, there has been relatively little written on the task of personnel preparation for providing interventions for children with autistic spectrum disorders. This chapter identifies the major trends in personnel preparation in this field and the special challenges they present to the professional communities involved. KINDS OF PERSONNEL Special education teachers and early interventionists come to work- ing with children with autistic spectrum disorders from diverse back- grounds. These backgrounds may provide strong instruction in some aspects of development and education relevant to autistic spectrum dis- orders and little or no instruction in other aspects. Thus, many qualified special education and early intervention teachers have little experience or knowledge about the specific communication problems, limited social skills, and unusual behaviors of children with autistic spectrum disor- ders. Even if they had received solid training in general special education or special early intervention, they may also have had little or no instruc- tion about such important strategies as applied behavior analysis, the use of physical structure and visual systems in teaching, or appropriate use of alternative or complementary methods of communication, such as sign language or picture systems. As described earlier in Chapters 11 and 12, there is no one ideal cur- riculum for children with autistic spectrum disorders. Because these chil- dren have diverse needs and learn best in diverse contexts, most of the well-established comprehensive intervention programs discussed in Chapters 11 and 12 use many different curricula to design highly indi- vidualized programs for students (Anderson and Romanczyk, 1999; Strain and Hoyson, 2000). The need to address many different goals requires that teachers be familiar with alternative sets of curricula and various methods of implementing them. This requirement is strengthened by the

PERSONNEL PREPARATION 187 fact that many of the early intervention programs place great emphasis on a child’s engagement in learning and social activities as key elements predicting progress. A teacher of a child with autistic spectrum disorders is responsible for identifying the child’s needs, using appropriate cur- ricula to address those needs, selecting appropriate methods to teach that curricula, and ensuring engagement in these activities despite the child’s limited social awareness. A teacher cannot acquire the skills to do this from academic classes or didactic presentations alone. In addition to an infrastructure and ongoing team to help in this process, opportunities to learn from and work with models of working classrooms and effective teachers are crucial for the new teacher of children with autistic spectrum disorders. The importance of the increasing use of inclusion as an educational strategy makes some form of instruction for general educators or childcare workers also important. Such special instruction may take a form differ- ent from that of preparation of special education teachers, who might be expected to encounter a larger number of different children with autistic spectrum disorders in their careers. Issues such as the quick availability of support teams to provide in-service training and workshops for gen- eral educators are most relevant for this population. Availability of con- sultation about specific children is also critical. One of the potential resources for providing special services for chil- dren with autism is the paraprofessional. Pickett (1996) has reported that there are 280,000 paraeducators who work in special education settings. Given the personnel shortages that seem likely to continue into the future, some attempt to include paraeducators within educational intervention programs for children with autism seems highly desirable (French, 1997; Skelton, 1997). Key issues are how these paraprofessionals are to be pre- pared and what roles they are to play in educational programs. OSEP has provided funds to the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals at the City University of New York to develop guidelines for paraeducator roles and responsibilities, as well as to develop model standards for their training and supervision. Such standards could be helpful as a guide for training paraprofessionals and for alerting other professionals to their important supervisory responsibilities for such personnel. One systematic use of paraprofessionals can be seen in the Young Autism Project at UCLA. This program uses a behavioral intervention curriculum that is designed to be delivered in a one-to-one, discrete trial format implemented by parents and trained college student therapists working in a child’s home. Brief training is provided to the student therapists before they begin, and ongoing supervision is an integral part of the treatment structure. This strategy includes programming that dif- fers from most early interventions in being both home-based and very intensive. Thus, children receive extensive treatment in situations where

188 EDUCATING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM it would have been extremely difficult to develop similar programs if fully qualified teachers had provided equivalent services. The burden of recruiting, organizing, and maintaining a cadre of stu- dent therapists requires commensurate management skills and sometimes requires time and personal funds from parents. Many families find it difficult to achieve their goals in terms of intensity of treatment because of the complexities of dealing with student-therapist schedules and attrition (Smith et al., 2000). How to maintain an existing pool of paraprofession- als and how to better integrate the transmission to them of training and knowledge, and how to maintain the balance between stability that should be available in school and center-based systems and the flexibility possible in some home-based and integrated programs are important questions. PROVIDERS OF PERSONNEL PREPARATION Significant questions include: Who are the professionals who can be counted upon to provide assistance? Where are such professionals pre- pared, and who is doing the preparation? As for curriculum and inter- vention strategies, there are diverse opinions. One controversy is whether to train specialists for children with au- tistic spectrum disorders (these specialists may come from a range of backgrounds and are generalists across disciplines within this specialty), or to consider autistic spectrum disorders a unique topic within disci- pline-specific training (e.g., training of speech and language pathologists or psychologists). Models of both approaches are available: the TEACCH program is an example of the generalist model (Marcus et al., 2000), and the Denver Model (Rogers et al., 2000) is an example of building on separate, but integrated, interdisciplinary approaches (see Chapter 12). Similarly, advocacy groups such as the Autism Society of America and state parents’ and educational programs provide broad-based educa- tional opportunities, while professional organizations (e.g., American Speech and Hearing Association) provide information that is more tar- geted to particular professions. The two models should be considered complementary. CONTENT OF PERSONNEL PREPARATION PROGRAMS The content of training programs reflects the diversity of approaches in the field of autism. There is little research comparing the relative effectiveness of personnel preparation models. Some programs have a specific philosophy and approach (e.g., UCLA, LEAP, TEACCH; see Chapter 12); others present more eclectic points of view. Some programs have extensive databases of specific activities (see McClannahan and

PERSONNEL PREPARATION 189 Krantz, 2000). The challenge for each program is how to provide differ- entiated curricula that are adapted to the social, cognitive, and commu- nication needs of children with autistic spectrum disorders. Specific areas addressed by programs include patterns of development in autistic spectrum disorders, theories of underlying deficits and strengths, gen- eral and specific strategies of intervention, classroom-based approaches to communication and social development, and methods of evaluating effectiveness. Teachers learn according to the same principles as their students. Multiple exposures, opportunities to practice, and active involvement in learning are all important aspects of learning in teachers, as well as in children. Many states and community organizations have invested sub- stantial funds in teacher preparation, predominantly through workshops and large-audience lectures by well-known speakers. While such presen- tations can be inspiring, they do not substitute for training and ongoing supervision and consultation. There are a number of creative models for the preparation of person- nel who provide interventions for children with autistic spectrum disor- ders. These models have been implemented primarily at a state level (see Hurth et al., 2000). These models can be defined in terms of three stages of training, each related to a different level of experience with autistic spectrum disorders. The first level is initial training, which occurs pre- service or in the first few weeks of school and assumes that the trainees have minimal knowledge or experience working with children with au- tistic spectrum disorders and their families (McClannahan and Krantz, 2000; Smith et al., 2000). The TEACCH program in North Carolina (Marcus et al., 2000) and the Denver program (Rogers et al., 2000), for example, have weeklong preservice workshops that are open to the pub- lic. This training usually has a strong hands-on component but also in- cludes lectures and workshops. Across the comprehensive programs re- viewed in Chapter 12, the range of time devoted to initial training was from a full-time week of lectures and teaching in a model classroom to didactic sessions held several times a week through the first four to six weeks of school. A second level of personnel preparation consists of ongoing training and mentorship, usually in the first year of teaching. A lead teacher or supervisor who is available full-time to the staff often provides this train- ing. The primary responsibility of this person, who typically does not have her or his own classroom, is the ongoing training and support of teaching staff in the programs for children with autistic spectrum disor- ders and also staff in regular classrooms where these children are in- cluded. Such a person is part of almost all the well-established programs (see, e.g., Powers, 1994; McGee et al., 1999). The lead teacher usually has general special education credentials and substantial experience in autism

190 EDUCATING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM beyond university courses. Several programs use systematic checklists with which teachers are rated to provide feedback to both teachers and supervisors about target areas to address (McGee et al., 1999). In addi- tion, many programs involve consultation, dissemination of their own models, and workshops and conferences. The workshops and confer- ences are not sufficient, by themselves, to train personnel; they are one component of ongoing, individualized, hands-on inservice training (Marcus et al., 2000; McGee et al., 1999). Many of the comprehensive programs reviewed in this and other documents recruit undergraduate university students to work in class- rooms and provide practice for graduate students (Harris and Handleman, 1994). Practicum sites provide extremely valuable opportu- nities for students to work with children with autistic spectrum disorders. Often this training is highly organized within a program that focuses on autistic spectrum disorders, but it also may have relations to the general special education curriculum. This integration is a critical goal as an investment in future teachers and other special education personnel. A third stage of personnel preparation includes the major effort to provide technical assistance to existing programs through numerous state and federal agencies (Hurth et al., 2000). The Indiana Resource Center for Autism publishes an annual directory of autism training and technical assistance programs. The most recent edition reports over 30 programs in 22 states. The center provides technical assistance aimed at helping com- munities, organizations, and families acquire the knowledge and skills to support children and adults in early intervention, school, community, and work settings. Although much more work is needed, a number of successful programs and efforts to provide personnel support are in place in different states (see Hurth et al., 2000). Research concerning change in educational and other opportunities suggests that administrative attitudes and support are critical for improv- ing schools. Finding ways of building on the knowledge of teachers as they acquire experience with children with autism and finding ways of keeping skilled personnel within the field are critically important. Pro- viding knowledge about autistic spectrum disorders to special education and regular education administrators, as well as specialized providers with major roles in early intervention (e.g., speech and language patholo- gists), will be critical in effecting proactive change. RESOURCES One of the clear needs in the field of autism is to increase the number of well-prepared professionals to work with children and their families. State and federal agencies have traditionally been the source of funds that can be used by institutions of higher learning, clinics, and other training

PERSONNEL PREPARATION 191 centers to increase the supply of qualified persons. Increasingly, the de- mand for these programs has come from local communities and parent and other advocacy organizations. While the National Institutes of Health have supported a variety of research projects related to both children and adults with autism, the major federal agency for personnel preparation has been the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Pro- grams. In 1999, the agency supported personnel preparation programs in eight universities that were preparing master’s degree personnel in spe- cial education and in speech-language pathology with an emphasis on autism. Other OSEP funds went to technical assistance operations at the state and local levels. The agency also funds a major technical assistance program, the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance System, which has produced a series of widely distributed publications, such as an annotated bibliography on autistic spectrum disorders, a list of na- tional contacts and other references on autism in early childhood, and a list of OSEP-funded early childhood projects and materials on autistic spectrum disorders. This last publication reports on a variety of print products, such as a social skills training program for the classroom, par- ent training modules, and suggestions for developing individualized sup- ports for young children with autism and their families. OSEP provides support for various demonstration projects designed to illustrate best practices in the area of autism, including Alaska’s autism intensive early intervention project at The University of Alaska at An- chorage, a model for early treatment of toddlers at Emory University, and a school-based preschool program for children with autism at University of Washington. In addition, a major effort to replicate the Lovaas (1987) intervention program includes 13 centers in the United States and 4 in foreign countries; the United States sites are funded by the National Insti- tute of Mental Health. Outreach projects are designed to disseminate proven practices and to encourage their replication beyond the original program. An example of such outreach is a project at the University of South Florida, Delivering Individualized Support for Young Children with Autism, which assists state systems in implementing a program of comprehensive and effective support for young children with autism and their families. The Council for Exceptional Children (2000) has been a leader in the development of standards for many different fields of special education. The council currently does not differentiate specific standards for educat- ing children with autism; it combines standards for the category of autism with those for children with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities. The council is considering developing a separate certificate for special areas such as autism to recognize teachers who have partici- pated in specific personnel preparation within this field. The developers of educational strategies for children with autistic

192 EDUCATING CHILDREN WITH AUTISM spectrum disorders have a responsibility to describe their procedures with enough clarity that others can replicate their approaches. Of all the inter- ventions available, except for those discussed in Chapters 11 and 12, few interventions for these children are manualized at this time. Thus, much information is by word of mouth or informal communications. Providing treatment manuals, instructions, and procedures in print, videotape, and audiotape media will assist personnel preparation activities for improv- ing the education of young children with autistic spectrum disorders.

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Autism is a word most of us are familiar with. But do we really know what it means?

Children with autism are challenged by the most essential human behaviors. They have difficulty interacting with other people-often failing to see people as people rather than simply objects in their environment. They cannot easily communicate ideas and feelings, have great trouble imagining what others think or feel, and in some cases spend their lives speechless. They frequently find it hard to make friends or even bond with family members. Their behavior can seem bizarre.

Education is the primary form of treatment for this mysterious condition. This means that we place important responsibilities on schools, teachers and children's parents, as well as the other professionals who work with children with autism. With the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, we accepted responsibility for educating children who face special challenges like autism. While we have since amassed a substantial body of research, researchers have not adequately communicated with one another, and their findings have not been integrated into a proven curriculum.

Educating Children with Autism outlines an interdisciplinary approach to education for children with autism. The committee explores what makes education effective for the child with autism and identifies specific characteristics of programs that work. Recommendations are offered for choosing educational content and strategies, introducing interaction with other children, and other key areas.

This book examines some fundamental issues, including:

  • How children's specific diagnoses should affect educational assessment and planning
  • How we can support the families of children with autism
  • Features of effective instructional and comprehensive programs and strategies
  • How we can better prepare teachers, school staffs, professionals, and parents to educate children with autism
  • What policies at the federal, state, and local levels will best ensure appropriate education, examining strategies and resources needed to address the rights of children with autism to appropriate education.

Children with autism present educators with one of their most difficult challenges. Through a comprehensive examination of the scientific knowledge underlying educational practices, programs, and strategies, Educating Children with Autism presents valuable information for parents, administrators, advocates, researchers, and policy makers.

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