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Schools for High-Functioning Autism

Navigate the search for schools for high-functioning autism with confidence and knowledge.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
April 2, 2024
10 min read
min read

Understanding High-Functioning Autism

High-functioning autism is a term used to describe individuals on the autism spectrum who do not have intellectual disabilities but may face challenges with social interaction and communication. High-functioning autistic individuals often demonstrate exceptional abilities in various skills and talents, making it important to understand their unique characteristics and the potential educational challenges they may face.

Key Characteristics of High-Functioning Autism

Children with high-functioning autism often demonstrate exceptional abilities in a wide range of skills and talents. Their interests and talents may be specific and somewhat obsessive, which can be harnessed to broaden their learning experiences in other subjects [1].

Autism spectrum disorder has two core features: social communication differences or difficulties and specific or repetitive interests and behaviors. Sensory challenges, emotional regulation, executive functioning, and social skills are factors to consider when determining the best school setting for an autistic child. Traditional school settings can be challenging for autistic children due to loud noises, strong smells, uncomfortable clothing, and the need to sit still.

Educational Challenges for Students

The needs of autistic children in school will vary greatly from child to child, and their academic challenges may also vary. Autistic students may require special education classes or advanced learning opportunities, depending on their intellectual capabilities. Some students may qualify for gifted or advanced classes, while others may require more individualized support.

Moreover, autistic students may struggle with social skills and face challenges in participating fully in the classroom and making friends. Research shows that autistic children are at an increased risk of bullying from other students. It's crucial for schools for high-functioning autism to consider these factors and create a supportive, inclusive environment where autistic students can thrive academically and socially [2].

Federal Laws and Autism Education

In the quest to provide the optimal educational environment for students with high-functioning autism, understanding federal laws that guide special education is crucial. Two such laws are the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04). Both mandate the use of evidence-based academic and behavioral practices and programs for children with autism.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a key piece of federal legislation that governs the education of all children in the United States, including those with autism. This law emphasizes the importance of using evidence-based practices in education to improve student outcomes.

Specifically, under ESSA, schools are required to use interventions and teaching strategies that are supported by research evidence. This means that when educating students with high-functioning autism, schools must use teaching methods that have been proven effective through rigorous research. This helps to ensure that students receive the highest quality education possible, tailored to their individual needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04) is another critical piece of legislation that impacts the education of students with autism. This law mandates that public schools provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students with disabilities, including those with high-functioning autism.

Under IDEA '04, schools are required to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for each student with a disability. This IEP outlines the student's educational goals and the services and supports that the school will provide to help the student meet these goals. For students with high-functioning autism, the IEP might include accommodations to help the student succeed in a general education classroom, as well as specialized instruction to address the student's unique needs.

Both ESSA and IDEA '04 underscore the importance of using evidence-based practices when educating students with high-functioning autism. Understanding these laws can help families and educators advocate for the proper education of students with autism.

Evidence-Based Practices in Autism Education

In the realm of education for high-functioning autism, evidence-based practices (EBPs) play a crucial role in enhancing learning outcomes. These practices are grounded in research and are widely recognized for their effectiveness in improving academic and behavioral performance.

Selection and Implementation of Practices

According to the IRIS Center, two federal laws, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04), mandate the use of evidence-based academic and behavioral practices and programs for children with autism. The National Professional Development Center (NPDC) on Autism Spectrum Disorder has identified 27 evidence-based practices for improving outcomes for students with autism.

When selecting evidence-based practices, educators and practitioners should consider the specific characteristics of the student, their own expertise, and the resources available. The goal is to choose an EBP that is likely to be effective for a particular student.

Once an EBP is implemented, educators should collect data on the student's behavior to evaluate the effectiveness of the practice and whether it was implemented correctly. This data-driven approach ensures that the chosen EBP is indeed beneficial for the student and allows for adjustments as needed.

Key Steps Description
Selection of EBP Consider student characteristics, staff expertise, and available resources
Implementation of EBP Apply the selected practice in the educational setting
Evaluation Collect data on student's behavior to assess the effectiveness of the EBP

High-Leverage Practices (HLPs)

High-Leverage Practices (HLPs) are another important component in the education of students with high-functioning autism. These practices, which can overlap with EBPs, are known for their ability to significantly increase student performance.

Examples of HLPs include conducting functional behavior assessments, implementing peer-mediated strategies, and building supportive learning environments. These practices are designed to enhance the learning experience and foster positive behavioral changes among students with autism.

In the context of schools for high-functioning autism, the use of evidence-based and high-leverage practices can make a substantial difference in a student's academic and personal development. By effectively selecting and implementing these practices, educators can provide a supportive and conducive learning environment for students with autism.

Educational Treatments for High-Functioning Autism

Educational treatments for individuals with high-functioning autism are essential to enhance their academic, social, and independent living skills. This section focuses on two key types of treatments: classroom approaches and behavioral approaches.

Classroom Approaches

Classroom approaches focus on creating an environment that promotes learning and development for students with high-functioning autism. One such method is the Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children (TEACCH) approach. This approach is based on creating consistent and visually structured environments to improve academic outcomes.

In addition to the TEACCH approach, there are other therapies that can be integrated into the classroom setting:

  • Speech and Language Therapy: This therapy aims to enhance the speech and language understanding and usage of individuals with high-functioning autism. Communication methods may include verbal communication, signs, gestures, pictures, or electronic communication devices.
  • Occupational Therapy: This therapy teaches skills to help students with high-functioning autism live as independently as possible. It covers tasks like dressing, eating, bathing, and social interaction. Occupational therapy may also include the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) for children aged 12-48 months based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis.

Behavioral Approaches

In contrast to classroom approaches, behavioral approaches focus on managing and improving the behaviors of students with high-functioning autism.

One widely accepted behavioral approach is Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA focuses on encouraging desired behaviors and discouraging undesired behaviors to enhance various skills. The progress of the students is tracked and measured to ensure effective treatment [4].

Among the behavioral approaches, psychological therapies like Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) are also common. CBT can assist individuals with high-functioning autism in dealing with mental health issues like anxiety and depression. It helps students recognize the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to change reactions to situations.

By implementing a mix of classroom and behavioral approaches, schools for high-functioning autism can provide a comprehensive education that addresses the unique needs of each student. This multi-faceted approach is crucial to help students thrive academically, socially, and personally.

Addressing Social Skills in Autism Education

Social skills training is an integral part of education for individuals with high-functioning autism. Schools for high-functioning autism often incorporate strategies to enhance these skills, which can be pivotal for the student's interaction with peers, family, and the community. Some of these strategies include the use of social skills groups and personalized teaching stories.

The Role of Social Skills Groups

Social skills groups offer an opportunity for individuals with autism to practice social skills with their peers. Many of these groups follow commercially available curricula, which have been proven effective based on research. For instance, researchers at the University of Utah and the U.C. Davis MIND Institute identified the characteristics of an effective social skills group after reviewing five studies.

One promising model in this field is the PEERS program at UCLA, which stands for Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills. This 16-week program is designed to teach social skills, including tips on dating and navigating social situations.

Improving the social skills of individuals with autism can significantly enhance their participation in the community. Resources are available to search for programs that provide opportunities to practice social skills and make community organizations more inclusive.

The Use of Personalized Teaching Stories

Personalized teaching stories are another effective tool used by schools for high-functioning autism. These visual aids, such as charts, booklets, or electronic devices, make everyday social situations more predictable and provide strategies for individuals with autism to navigate them effectively.

Autism Speaks, in partnership with the University of Washington READI Lab and Microsoft Office, provides personalized templates that allow parents and therapists to customize teaching stories. These stories are used to explain social situations to individuals with autism, using pictures and simple language.

By combining the use of social skills groups and personalized teaching stories, schools for high-functioning autism can provide a comprehensive approach to improving the social skills of their students. This, in turn, can lead to better interactions with others and increased participation in community activities.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) for Autistic Students

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a crucial tool that guides the educational journey of students with autism, including those with high-functioning autism. It outlines the learning needs, the services provided to meet these needs, and the progress measurement methods.

The IEP Development Process

The development of the IEP is a collaborative process that involves the student, parents, teachers, and other relevant professionals. The IEP team evaluates the student's strengths, weaknesses, and progress to set appropriate academic and functional goals.

One of the key components of the IEP is the statement of individualized services and supports required by the student. This includes special education services, related services, supplementary aids and services, and program modifications. The team should consider the type of services and supports the student needs, the frequency and duration of those services, the person responsible for providing the services, and the environment in which the services will be provided.

Services and Supports in an IEP

The services and supports in a student's IEP are chosen based on their individual needs. For example, a student who is blind may require specialized instruction from a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI), orientation and mobility (O&M) services, and accommodations such as a refreshable braille display and digital text.

Additional considerations include behavioral challenges for students who have a history of problem behavior or behaviors that impede learning. Positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) should be considered for students with disabilities who exhibit problem behaviors.

Services and supports in a student's IEP should be based on peer-reviewed research (evidence-based practices) to the extent practicable. However, promising practices can also be considered when evidence-based practices are not available or appropriate for a student's needs.

Finally, the statement of services in a student's IEP must be written clearly so that the school's commitment of resources is apparent to parents and other members of the IEP team. The IEP team should also consider special factors such as positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) when determining appropriate services and supports for students with disabilities [6].

In conclusion, the IEP is a critical element in the educational journey of students with high-functioning autism. It ensures that they receive the necessary services and supports tailored to their unique needs, facilitating their academic and personal growth.

Choosing the Best School Setting

Determining the best educational setting for a child with high-functioning autism can be a complex task. The choice of school setting depends on several factors and must align with the child's unique needs, strengths, and challenges.

Factors to Consider

The selection of the ideal school setting for a child with high-functioning autism depends on their specific needs, which may include sensory challenges, emotional regulation, executive functioning, and social skills. Traditional school settings can be challenging for autistic children due to loud noises, strong smells, uncomfortable clothing, and the need to sit still.

Depending on their intellectual capabilities, autistic students may require special education classes or advanced learning opportunities. Some students may qualify for gifted or advanced classes, while others may require more individualized support.

It's also important to consider the social aspects of the school setting. Autistic students may struggle with social skills and face challenges in participating fully in the classroom and making friends. Furthermore, research shows that autistic children are at an increased risk of bullying from other students [2].

Different Educational Options

There are a variety of educational options available for children with high-functioning autism.

Educational Options Description
General Education Classrooms Autistic students learn alongside their neurotypical peers.
Resource Classrooms Provides additional support to students who spend most of their day in a general education classroom.
Special Education Classrooms Designed for students who need more intensive support.
Autistic-Only Settings Focuses solely on the needs of autistic students.
Private Schools May offer specialized programs for autistic students.
Homeschooling Parents or a private tutor provide education at home.
Unschooling A less structured approach to education, emphasizing learning through life experiences.

The choice between these options depends on the child's needs, strengths, struggles, and unique family situation.

In conclusion, the educational program for high-functioning autistic children should be tailored to meet their individual needs, taking into account their strengths, challenges, and support requirements.

References

[1]: https://www.iidc.indiana.edu/pages/a-teacher-s-brief-guide-to-teaching-more-advanced-students-on-the-autism-spectrum

[2]: https://www.verywellhealth.com/educational-options-for-children-with-autism-260393

[3]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/asd2/cresource/q1/p02/

[4]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[5]: https://www.autismspeaks.org/social-skills-and-autism

[6]: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/module/iep01/cresource/q3/p08/

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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