The Importance of Matching Student Needs to Interventions
Each student with Asperger Syndrome (AS) has complex needs and requires specialized instruction and supports. There is no single intervention plan that is appropriate for every student with AS. Rather, effective intervention plans must be tailor-made or individualized to meet student strengths and needs. This is not just a good idea–it is required by federal law. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all students with disabilities are entitled to a free, appropriate public education, or FAPE (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2004). Evaluation to determine a student’s needs and strengths provides the foundation on which an appropriate education program is built. The requirement to evaluate and match intervention is not just in IDEA; matching intervention to individual needs is also a fundamental component of Response to Intervention (RTI) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It is possible to develop an intervention plan that is full of evidenced-based strategies—none of which are a good match to a student’s needs. This “shot in the dark” approach almost never works. In short, providing an appropriate education requires:
- Evaluation to determine individual strengths and needs
- Selection of evidence-based strategies based on individual strengths and needs
Evaluation to Determine Individual Strengths and Needs
Special education law requires consideration of the following in developing an individualized education program (IDEA, 2004):
- Strengths of student
- Concerns of parent
- Evaluation results
- Academic, developmental and functional needs
Each of these considerations is interrelated. In order to have a true understanding of a student’s needs, it is essential to understand functioning across settings. Parents are a critical source of information and are often the strongest long-term advocates for their child in the IEP process. Formal and informal evaluation helps to provide a richer picture of strengths and needs.
Two tools developed to facilitate the understanding of needs and strengths for individuals with ASD are the Underlying Characteristics Checklist (UCC) and Individual Strengths and Skills Inventory (ISSI) (Aspy & Grossman, 2007a, 2008). The UCC is an informal evaluation tool designed to identify characteristics of ASD across eight domains: Social, Restricted Patterns, Communication, Sensory Differences, Cognitive Differences, Motor Differences, Emotional Vulnerability, and Known Medical or Biological Factors. There are currently two versions of the UCC (high functioning and classic). A third version, the UCC-EC, is being developed for the early childhood population. The UCC is used for intervention design, not for determining eligibility or diagnosis. It was developed as a component of The Ziggurat Model, a comprehensive process for intervention design (Aspy & Grossman, 2007b). In order to ensure the most accurate picture of needs, it is recommended that the UCC be completed as a team including parents and professionals. Once complete, the UCC provides a snapshot of how autism is expressed in an individual.
The Individual Strengths and Skills Inventory (ISSI) is a parallel tool to the UCC; however, instead of assessing needs, the ISSI helps to identify strengths and skills (Aspy & Grossman, 2008). This information provides a baseline for setting new goals and objectives, and insight into potential reinforcers.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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