As Akron-Westfield experienced a small but growing population of students considered to be on the autism spectrum, Principal Derek Briggs and his staff educated themselves on strategies that could be used. In particular, they attended Northwest Area Education Agency’s (AEA) TEACCH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication-related handicapped CHildren) training.
According to its website, TEACCH was developed at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill in the early 1970s by Eric Schopler and colleagues. It can be implemented in any school setting, but it’s most often implemented in self-contained special education settings. TEACCH methods are based on the premise that people with autism are predominantly visual learners, so intervention strategies focus on physical and visual structure, schedules, work systems and task organization. Individualized systems aim to address difficulties with communication, organization, generalization, concepts, sensory processing, change and relating to others.
Principal Briggs and other Akron-Westfield educators, with the support of Northwest AEA employees Jan Turbes and Cynthia Johnson, collaborated for one student, in particular, who was struggling in a couple of settings. In addition to the behaviors associated with the autism spectrum, he was in the process of transitioning to high school, which can be difficult for any student. The school/AEA team used structured TEACCH strategies to help the student adjust to the rigors of high school.
“As part of an Autism resource team, Northwest AEA strives to communicate with school staff and families evidenced based practices that are a win-win for everyone involved,” added Jan Turbes, challenging behaviors consultant at Northwest AEA.
According to Principal Briggs, when things didn’t go well in the classroom for the student, the situation could escalate quickly.
“Because the frequency and intensity of these encounters increased near the end of the first semester, we reached out to Northwest AEA for additional support,” explained Principal Briggs. “Along with our special education strategist and an autism specialist, a meeting was held with the parent to discuss additional/alternative strategies we could put in place to assist the student–yet not overlook behavioral expectations we have for all students when under our supervision.”
Principal Briggs is happy to report that since this meeting, and with a new plan in place, issues are addressed in a more timely and consistent manner with the family and his educators.
“Each day is different and there are continual challenges that need to be addressed, but we have found some success at keeping difficult situations from escalating,” Principal Briggs said. “We appreciate being able to partner with Northwest AEA in an effort to support the needs of our staff, students and families, especially in situations such as this.”