What should teachers consider when working with students with autism spectrum disorder?
Page 4: The Multidisciplinary Team
Once it has been determined that a child has ASD and is eligible for individualized early intervention or special education services, the multidisciplinary team needs to write a plan outlining these services. The plan outlines individualized goals (which should be tied to the assessment results and parent concerns), the amount of time the child or student is to be educated with typically developing peers, and more. For children from birth to three years of age, these plans are called Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs). Children and youth ages 3–21 have individualized education programs (IEPs).
Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSPs)
Written documents used to record and guide the early intervention process for young children with disabilities and their families; designed to reflect individual concerns, priorities, and resources.
individualized education programs (IEPs)
Written plans used to delineate an individual student’s current level of development and his or her learning goals, as well as to specify any accommodations, modifications, and related services that a student might need to attend school and maximize his or her learning.
Required Multidisciplinary Team Members
Children and students with disabilities have a variety of needs, which require the expertise of a number of individuals. Although many individuals might be involved, IDEA ’04 requires the participation of key team members in the development and implementation of IFSPs and IEPs. These team members are described in the boxes below.
IFSP Team Members: Children ages birth to three years
IDEA ’04 requires that, at a minimum, multidisciplinary IFSP teams include a parent and at least two professionals from different disciplines, one of whom must be the service coordinator.
Parent. The term parent refers to a biological parent, foster parent, legal guardian, or an individual who acts in place of the parent (e.g., grandparent, stepparent, other relative). This person can provide important information about the child’s history, strengths, and needs as well as the family’s priorities for the child and information about the cultural and developmental appropriateness of goals and intervention strategies.
Service coordinator. This person assists the child and his or her family in accessing the appropriate services. This can include tasks such as making referrals to providers, scheduling appointments, as well as coordinating services, assessments, and IFSP meetings.
Second professional. This position can be filled by any number of professionals—for example, an early intervention service provider, related service provider, or evaluator—as long as he or she is from a different discipline than that of the service coordinator. This allows the inclusion of multiple professional perspectives during the decision-making process.
Additional team members are determined based on the individual needs of the infant or toddler or are requested by the parent (see “Additional Team Members” below).
IEP Team Members: Students age 3–21
IDEA ’04 requires that, at a minimum, multidisciplinary IEP teams include a parent, general education teacher, special education provider, a representative of the school district, and an educational professional who can interpret assessment results.
Parents. The term parent refers to a biological parent, foster parent, legal guardian, or an individual who acts in place of the parent (e.g., grandparent, stepparent, other relative). Parents can provide important information about priorities, strengths, and child needs as well as information about the cultural and developmental appropriateness of goals and intervention strategies.
General education teacher. At least one general educator should be present if the student is participating in general education. As the general education curriculum specialist, this person is responsible for providing the core academic instruction.
Special education teacher or special education provider. At least one special education teacher or provider should be present. An expert in specially designed instruction, accommodations, and curricular modifications, the special education teacher ensures that student performance data are collected and analyzed, and then instruction and intervention are modified accordingly. A special education provider is responsible for implementing the IEP. In addition to the special education teacher, this can include related service personnel, who also provide services outlined in the IEP (see below).
A representative of the school district. This person must be a) qualified to provide or supervise the uniquely designed instruction that will meet the student’s needs, b) knowledgeable about the general education curriculum, and c) knowledgeable about available school resources.
Other professional (e.g., school psychologist). This person’s role is to interpret the assessment results and explain the instructional implications of those results to the team. This role may be filled by any of the school personnel listed above, as appropriate.
Other relevant individuals. At the parent or school district’s discretion, other people who have relevant knowledge or expertise regarding the student can be included, when appropriate.
Student with a disability. Depending on a child’s age, maturity, interest in, and willingness to participate, the student should be included in IEP meetings when appropriate.
Additional team members are determined based on the individual needs of the student (see “Additional Team Members” below).
Andy Parent of a child with ASD
Ideally, the multidisciplinary team members (including the family) work together to develop a plan that addresses the child’s individual needs. As with any type of team, it can be challenging at times for the members to come to consensus. There are times when professionals and family members disagree about supports and services that the child will receive. Listen as Andy and Becky, the parents of a child with ASD, describe their experiences as members of their son’s IEP team (time: 2:54).
Andy: Being part of the IEP team was a new adventure certainly and not one that I think any parent in our situation ever plans for. And, like all these things, you figure it out as you go. It’s a challenge of the public education system, trying to figure out what to do with kids like ours who need special attention and deserve special attention. I understand that it’s difficult for everybody. The approach is like a team, but sometimes there are little mini battles within the team, it feels like. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t some wonderful people that are part of the process; it’s just the needs of all the parties are different, and as parents of the child our needs are simply to advocate for him and to make sure he’s getting the best possible education that he can and that we are accessing every part of the system that’s available to us. But it’s extremely challenging, produces a tremendous amount of anxiety. Parents, us included who are very well educated, still feel underequipped, which is why many people do bring attorneys to these meetings, and we have done that as well from time to time. But it’s a balance always, because you don’t want to show up with guns blazing, ready for a fight because that immediately puts people into defensive posture on the other side, and then you are in a fight all the way through. And so our approach has always been to try to maintain a real civil exchange and friendly exchange and positive exchange. We’ve been pretty successful at that throughout, and we have not really had any significant challenges that we haven’t been able to overcome. Very early, we had a little bit of a challenge in how to describe his disability.
Becky: The school psychologist wanted to label him as mentally retarded, and we knew that (a) that wasn’t an appropriate label and (b) he was too young to make that assessment. We did have to push very hard on that, and as new parents with a three-year-old that was our first foray into the world of IEPs. That was scary and challenging for sure.
Andy: Fortunately, we were successful in getting a more appropriate label, language. That’s very important. Where you start is going to affect the trajectory of your whole experience as a student in a school system. So pushing very hard against that, I think, allowed for us to be on a path for Finn to be and stay in a general education environment, and he’s had an aide throughout, which has been a very good experience as well.
Additional Team Members
In addition to the required multidisciplinary team members listed above, other personnel are often needed to address the individualized needs of the child or student. Related services personnel—each with discipline-specific expertise beyond that of the classroom or special education teachers—are frequently part of the multidisciplinary team and provide these supports. Depending on the intensity of the needed services, related services personnel might work directly with family members or caregivers of infants or toddlers, work directly with an individual child or student, or consult with team members who then provide the supports during naturally occurring activities. Some of the more common related services personnel—many of whom are on the IFSP and IEP teams for students with ASD—are listed below.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) has long been recognized as the most effective overall strategy for educating students with ASD. Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) or other well-trained behavioral specialists can assist school teams with assessment, training, and direct intervention at school, in community settings, and at home.
applied behavior analysis
Process of systematically applying interventions to modify an individual’s behavior and at the same time collecting data to evaluate the effect of each intervention on the individual’s behavior.
Paraprofessionals can work with young children and students with ASD on a variety of activities (e.g., implement behavioral plans, facilitate peer interactions). Often the paraprofessional spends more time with the student than either the special education or general education teacher and can provide valuable insight into the student’s strengths, areas of needs, interests, and other issues that can help build a strong educational program.
OTs support a student’s participation in school-related routines and activities. For a student with ASD, that can include activities such as dressing independently, coping with tactile or sensory issues, participating in social activities, or managing transitions across school and community settings.
PTs can assess and provide intervention for issues of strength and stamina, postural control, functional mobility, coordination, and general motor behavior. They can help young children learn how to use playground equipment or negotiate steps and stairways in the school. PTs might help arrange the classroom and home environments to make sure that the work spaces (e.g., desks, computer stations) are arranged to facilitate independence and success.
SLPs help students who have trouble with communication skills perform important learning and school-related activities. For many students with ASD, this includes work on social communication, which is one of the core deficits of ASD.
In addition to their role in the assessment and evaluation of students with ASD, school psychologists develop behavior plans, conduct social groups, and provide or recommend other specialized interventions for students with ASD.
A nutritionist develops and monitors appropriate feeding plans to address the nutritional needs of the child, as well as other feeding issues such as food preferences, food habits, and sensory issues, among others.
School social workers support students with disabilities whose academic, behavioral, or social-emotional issues interfere with their education. Depending on their age, children and youth with disabilities might receive services such as social skills training, transition planning, conflict-resolution training, individual counseling, family counseling, or job-placement training.
Vocational specialists have expertise in post-secondary education and employment options and focus on career development and preparing students for independence and for integration into a post-secondary school, work, or community environment.
School personnel can also request others to participate as members of the multidisciplinary team. These additional team members can include a range of individuals, such as child/family advocates, community members (e.g., clergy, tribal elder), and language interpreters.
Nancy Rosenberg, PhD Parent of a young adult with ASD Director of Distance Learning ABA Program University of Washington
Listen as Nancy Rosenberg discusses her son Brian’s IEP team and highlights non-required professionals that she invited (time: 1:15).
I think my general comment on his school was that it was an ongoing struggle. We tended to have the most behaviors in school. It was an ongoing struggle in the early years to figure out how to include him and to make sure people knew how to work with him. He’s definitely teachable, but you need to know what you’re doing to teach him. And so you really needed the people working with him to be highly trained. The IEP team was, of course, his special ed teacher, the OT, and the SLP. I always insisted that his one-on-one paraeducator was at any of the meetings. They are the person—or if there’s multiples of them, and there were years that we had several people working with Brian—they’re the ones that probably know him better than anybody at the school. And then all through his junior high and high school, we also had an education consultant involved in his programs. This was somebody that was hired from outside the school district who specialized in autism to control some of his program. And that was something we asked for and got in his IEP.
Review Michelle’s vignette from the Challenge movie and answer the questions below.
Michelle is a fifteen-year-old tenth grader diagnosed with high-functioning ASD. Michelle is bright and funny and often outspoken with adults and her peers. She has a good memory and the ability to recall details about all things related to outer space. Although this can lead to interesting conversation, Michelle has a hard time taking cues from her audience when they are tired of a particular subject. She perseverates when the other kids would prefer her to stop. Michelle also displays behaviors that the other students consider strange, such as rocking back and forth in her chair and violating others’ personal space by standing too close when talking to them. All these behaviors present challenges when Michelle is trying to make friends at school. Even so, she loves to be around her peers and would like to participate in a school club or team. However, because she lacks organizational skills, she often misses the deadlines for signing up or trying out.
Would this child or student have an IFSP team or an IEP team? Explain.
Who are the required members for this team?
Identify at least two additional members that might be on this team and explain why you would include them.
Michelle would have an IEP team because she is in high school.
The required members of the IEP team are the general education teacher, special education teacher, parent(s), representative of the school district, and a school psychologist or other assessment professional.
Any of the following can be members of Michelle’s IEP team:
Vocational specialist to help Michelle identify strengths and explore post-secondary options
Social worker/school psychologist /occupational therapist to help Michelle understand personal space and boundaries during social interactions
Speech/language pathologist to work on social communication skills