The Importance of Matching Student Needs to Interventions (page 3)
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.
Selection of Evidenced-Based Strategies Based on Individual Strengths and Needs
The UCC and ISSI serve as the foundation for developing a comprehensive intervention plan. Once complete, intervention teams determine priorities for intervention and match interventions to address these needs. The following case example illustrates the importance of matching student needs to intervention.
Eric is a 10-year-old boy with AS who has difficulty respecting the boundaries of his peers. Eric touches his peers as they walk in the hallways and sits too close to his classmates in the classroom and at lunch. His teacher worked with Eric for weeks on “respecting boundaries.” She taught him to maintain an arm’s length from his peers. Over time, his intrusive behaviors decreased. One day, as his teacher instructed the class, she saw Eric approach her desk and open her purse. After making so much progress, she was perplexed that he would blatantly violate her personal boundaries. With the assistance of Eric’s parents, the UCC and ISSI were completed. Through this process, they recognized that difficulty generalizing skills and rigid use of language, some of Eric’s underlying characteristics of AS, resulted in this behavior. The ISSI helped to identified some of his strengths, such as respecting physical boundaries. The ISSI showed them where to start his instruction. Eric knew the rule, keep an arm’s length away, but did not understand the broader meaning of this concept. He believed that by maintaining an arm’s length from his peers, he was respecting boundaries. It was clear that Eric needed to be taught alternative meanings of “respecting boundaries” and assistance in recognizing various situations in which respecting personal boundaries is an important social skill. Together, Eric’s parents and teacher developed an individualized intervention plan that addressed his underlying AS. Without an understanding of Eric’s ASD, his teacher would have seen his behavior as blatantly oppositional or willful, which might have resulted in the use of punishment. No amount of punishment would help Eric to learn the necessary concepts and skills for respecting boundaries.
Because of the failure to understand how characteristics of autism impact behavior, situations such as Eric’s happen every day. Only by understanding that interventions must address the underlying autism can such situations be avoided. The importance of matching interventions to student needs cannot be overstated. Addressing the underlying autism spectrum disorder is the key to creating an individualized intervention plan and providing FAPE. This is accomplished by evaluating strengths and needs, and selecting corresponding evidence-based strategies. The UCC and ISSI are evaluation tools that may be used to facilitate identification of characteristics of ASD and individual strengths. This information serves as the foundation for the development of interventions to match needs.
Aspy, R., & Grossman, B.G. (2007a). The Underlying Characteristics Checklist. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Aspy, R., & Grossman, B.G. (2007b). The Ziggurat Model: Designing Comprehensive Interventions for Individuals with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Aspy, R., & Grossman, B.G. (2008). Designing Comprehensive Interventions for Individuals with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Shawnee Mission, KS: Autism Asperger Publishing Company.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, PL 108–446, 20 USC §§ 1400 et seq.
For more information, visit www.texasautism.com.
Reprinted with the permission of the Autism Society.
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