Once a student is identified with special needs and embarks upon his/her educational journey on the special education path, various avenues and bridges open that offer an array of related services. Oftentimes, parents and general educators may not know the who or the what of those specialists that come to support the student’s needs through collaboration, consultative, or direct services. One provider, the school counselor, is being increasingly called upon to cater to the needs of students identified with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The ever-increasing identification of students diagnosed with ASD, coupled with the addition of the counselor as a related service provider within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, provides for a boosted school counselor contribution and support within the Individualized Education Program (IEP) realm. Therefore, the importance of including the professional school counselor within the conversation in the collaborative network in connection to the social and emotional aspects of students with ASD is amplified. Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has estimated that about 1 in 68 children has been identified with ASD. The increase in diagnoses over the years intensifies the spotlight of staying the course toward a synergistically solution-focused lens. This broader lens yields a recommitment to ensuring that our students are afforded the most appropriate and meaningful manner in which to access their education.
The components of an ASCA National Model program (ascanationalmodel.org), which incorporates the critical shift of providing collaborative partnership within the total educational program through responsive services that require consultation, is a concrete realization for today’s school counselors relative to providing a continuum of support for children with and without special needs. Professional school counselors bring a wealth of knowledge and understanding to the IEP team, relative to the needs of students with ASD. Although school counselors may not typically have experienced a heavy focus of autism training within their preparation programs, they do possess a wide range of developmental and social understanding to offer to students, educators, and parents. Through collaboration and consultation, school counselors offer substantial potentiating effect toward design and implementation of strategies to support students with ASD in learning self-management of their behaviors in the domain areas of academic, career, and personal/social, with an emphasis on academic success for all students, and imparts a preventative design and developmental nature. Reflective of the professional school counselor’s training and expertise within the personal/social domain, the comprehensiveness of the counselor’s role within the school community, in service to students with an IEP – specifically those identified with socially impactful eligibilities such as ASD – is climbing. Partnership between school counselor and special educator has been exemplified through the years during reauthorization legislation supporting special education including implementation of the IDEA of 1990, whereas an added obligation of the IEP team was to address students’ transition to postsecondary activities (Milsom, A., Goodnough, G., & Akos, P., 2007). IDEA of 2004 expounds upon the transition activities relative to the IEP team obligations by requiring the team to identify students’ future goals and the types of services, including course work, which would help students achieve their goals (Milsom et al.). The professional school counselor’s knowledge and expertise relative to transition activities and affective concerns, as well as their leadership and communication skill, are definite assets to the IEP team, in order to focus efforts toward implementing wide reaching system-level interventions with a broad range of students and educators.
Perusal of the three core deficits, demonstrated at various intensities within each individual with ASD, provides for the “why and how” students with ASD are often referred to the school counselor. For many students with autism, the core deficits of ASD interfere with their ability to work cooperatively with other students (Eldar, E., Talmor, R., & Wolf-Zukerman, T., 2010). Social and communicative deficits create hurdles in connection to play and other joint activities (Eldar et al.). Further, sensory development serves to impact attention and concentration, as well as behavioral regulation. Relative to the situation in which extra adult aid is required within the classroom for the student with ASD, limitation to the overall interaction with the classroom teacher is often impacted, as are relationships and interactions with peers (Adamowycz, 2008 as cited in Eldar, et al., 2010). Today, due to the increasing population of students with ASD, research continues to abound in order to support stakeholders who find themselves in a position to need to know more about students who are on the spectrum. Jenny Hildenbrandt, an elementary school counselor within the Snowline Joint Unified School District, is no stranger to seeking resources from the special education team at her school site. She sees the need for resources to support counselors and parents relative to strategies to assist students with autism in their interaction with other students. In addition to providing individual counseling, social, and crisis groups for students with and without special needs, Hildenbrandt is the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) leader at her site and is involved with providing district wide family support nights, along with the counseling team. Resources, such as those listed within the sidebar, are valuable to Hildenbrandt in her role as a direct service provider and family outreach point of contact. The following related service providers are a great preliminary point in which school counselors may look toward in order to link to collaborative connections:
SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER (SPED Teacher) – great initial point of contact for the school counselor. In addition to providing consultation and collaboration to include utilization of evidence-based practices (EBP), the SPED teacher can provide a bridge to related service providers that focus upon specific identified needs of the student. The SPED teacher can recommend academic accommodations utilizing evidence-based practices (EBP) that supply visual supports, visual closure systems, social narratives, video modeling, social scenarios, and prompting. He or she can provide review of behavior support plans (BSP), IEPs, and/or research or websites that provide overview of ASD and EBP. The SPED teacher is in daily contact with a myriad of folks connected to the student to include family, general education teacher, related service providers, classified school staff, administrators, and even other students with regard to student supports and current behaviors or needs.
SPEECH LANGUAGE PATHOLOGIST (SLP) – consultation/collaboration regarding core deficits associated with a student with ASD to include social and communication hurdles. In addition to the technical aspects of speech production, the SLP addresses verbal and non-verbal communication needs to include the social aspects of communication. Some areas of expertise, overlapping with the SPED teacher’s focus, include social narratives and social scenarios. Often, the SPED teacher and SLP work in harmony. The addition of the school counselor offers a meaningful and enriched perspective to this team and, most importantly, to the student.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST (OT) – consultation/collaboration opportunities related to core deficit of sensory impairment. The school-based OT provides support toward academic achievement and social participation through school routines within the classroom, cafeteria, and on the playground. Planning is supported through EBP that cross the professional strands of SPED teachers and SLPs to include visual schedules, visual closure systems, prompting, and kinesthetic modes. What OT’s services are all about is the occupation of school participation and learning. This role dovetails nicely with the school counselor’s part relative to social participation and support. Pattie Overduin, Snowline Joint Unified School District’s sole OT, shares, “We are not an island. It’s all about collaboration with the whole team.” She further relates that she views the classroom teacher as the point of the pencil. States Overduin, “The OT’s role is supporting the teacher toward helping the student through incorporating strategies into the classroom to assist with calming and processing sensory input.”
Just as in the profession of school counseling, teaching, or day-to-day parenting, the specific identified practice is most effective upon careful match to a learner’s unique needs and characteristics. The service providers listed above, provide different professional lenses in which to observe and understand the student with ASD and the lens of the school counselor will further deepen the understanding required in order to provide meaningful education to increase the student’s positive trajectory from TK through 12 and beyond.
Eldar, E., Talmor, R., & Wolf-Zukerman, T., (2010). Successes and difficulties in the individual inclusion of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the eyes of their coordinators [Electronic version]. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14(1), 97-114. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from http://www.apu.edu/library/resources/databases/
Milsom, A., Goodnough, G., & Akos, P. (2007). School counselor contributions to the individualized education program (IEP) process [Electronic version]. Preventing School Failure, 52(1), 19-24. Retrieved March 20, 2011, http://www.apu.edu/library/resources/databases/.
The following resources are offered to provide support and guidance for the professional school counselor or other educational caregivers in their journey toward broadening their scope of practice and more effectively including students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or students with other executive function disorders. These resources, grounded in Evidence-Based Practices (EBP), include:
Autism Internet Modules (AIM)
One of the many online resources available to family members, educators, or any individual who works with or lives with someone with autism. AIM is available at no cost. Certificate or credit options are available for a fee. AIM provides no-cost instructional modules to include evidence-based practices for home, school, community, and work place. autisminternetmodules.org
Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS)
PBIS supports success of ALL students through organized evidence-based practices (EBP), improvement of implementation of those practices, and maximization of academic and social behavior outcomes for students. Based upon language from the 1997 Reauthorization of IDEA, PBIS is used interchangeably with School-wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS). Although not specific to only students with ASD, PBIS is a framework that is based upon principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and the prevention approach and values of positive behavior support. This framework is an approach to assist school personnel in adopting and organizing EBP interventions into an integrated continuum, in order to enhance academic and social behavioral outcomes for all students. www.pbis.org
Social Narratives are EBPs that are visually represented and describe social situations and socially appropriate responses or behaviors to help students with ASD acquire and use appropriate social skills. These stories include communication, problem-solving, decision-making, self-management, and peer relations in order to allow the student with ASD to initiate and maintain positive social relationships through helping the student gain information of the thoughts and feelings of others, as well as contextual information they may have missed. Social narratives can be an effective strategy to support enhanced social and behavioral understanding. Much like the Biblio-Counseling Technique, but written in the first person and customized to the student’s specific needs with a limited focus, social narratives strategies are available through many books and Internet resources. A couple of notable pioneers with this type of intervention include Carol Gray, who authored the trademarked tools of Social Stories and Comic Strip Conversations, and Elisa Gagnon, who is a social narrative pioneer who introduced us to Power Cards.
Visual Supports Students with autism are typically best able to process information when it is provided through the visual and spatial channel. Spoken language tends to be transient and temporal to a student with ASD. Presented in a visually organized manner, written language can be less fleeting. Through an intervention developed at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill called Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication related handicapped Children (TEACCH methodology), the EBP intervention called “Structured TEACCHing” is based upon understanding the learning characteristics of individuals with autism and the use of visual supports to promote meaning and independence.
Angela Shaw, a special educator within Snowline Joint Unified School District in California, values the efforts of all in support of launching each life-long learner, especially when the learner is one with special needs. Angela has had the opportunity to work with students with mild to moderate needs and their families over the past 16 years at the elementary level. Though she delivers the information within this article to families and educational caregivers through the voice of a special educator, she also holds a credential in school counseling. Angela earned Masters’ degrees in special education and in school counseling from Azusa Pacific University, and holds a Certificate in Autism from Cal State San Bernardino. Her publishing focus is upon students with special needs in support of families and educational caregivers, in order to further collaborative relationships. Angela has authored many works on topics relative to high-incidence disabilities, including a two part series “ADD in Girls: Sugar or Spice?” originally appearing in August and October ’04 issues of EP, which is available through the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress
This article was featured in Issue 51 – School: Preparing Your Child for Transition