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SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / April 2007 / Autism Spectrum Disorders and Accessibility

Autism Spectrum Disorders and Accessibility

Blanche McKenna - Autism Consultant

Accessibility in educational systems is based on rights that pertain to making the environment, services, and systems available and beneficial to a diverse range of users. Students who experience Autism Spectrum Disorders have a history of a lack of accessibility to their communities, schools, and even families. As recently as the mid 1980s the majority of individual labeled as having autism were institutionalized. In Oregon they were one of the last populations to leave Fairview State institution as it closed. Schools, families, and communities were faced with how to make their services accessible to a population that few had knowledge, training, and resources to serve.

In less than 20 years most educators have now had exposure if not specific training on the needs of individuals who experience Autism Spectrum Disorders. Educationally, Autism Spectrum Disorders are defined as educational impact due to communication, social, sensory, and repetitive patterns of behavior/narrow interests. Accessibility is accomplished by using all aspects of IDEA and sometimes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Specially designed instruction for social and communication skills, behavioral plans for social and emotional issues, specialized curriculum and instruction to address specific learning styles, additional staff, specialized training, accommodations and modifications for sensory issues and social needs, and assistive technology to address motor, organizational, and learning styles are all commonly used to assist the student with Autism Spectrum Disorders in accessing the educational systems.

Today we have significant numbers of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders succeeding in regular classrooms, participating in a full range of school and extracurricular activities, graduating from high schools, serving as valedictorians, moving on to college, joining the community, finding employment, and creating their own families. Obviously accessibility laws have made a tremendous difference in the outcome for a population that was once relegated to the state institution.
Time Timer with color to show elapsed time
Time Timer with color to show elapsed time

The Time Timer is a common assistive technology device that helps students to better understand the abstract concept of the passage of time. The red portion decreases as time passes. This helps decrease anxiety and helps to teach time management.

Autism Planners for different skill levels
Autism Planners for different skill levels
A daily schedule is something that many of us use to sequence, manage, and anticipate activities through out the day. Most of us panic when we canít find our day planner. The same is true for our students. While most adults use day planners and calendars we start using picture and object schedules with preschool aged students. These help the student to access their environment independently.

By elementary school many students use a written daily schedule. In high school many are using day planners and more complex assistive devices.

A social story helps students to understand the social rules in an environment. This story was written for a student who stood up in the school cafeteria and went over and pinched another boy on February 28th for no apparent reason. After talking with the student he explained that he pinched him because he was not wearing green. He had seen a bulletin board with a leprechaun which reminded him of St. Patrickís Day. That was the catalyst for his choosing to pinch someone. The social story explained to him the social rules for St. Patrickís Day. By using an accommodation device like this that taught the missing social skill, we were able to have the student remain in the cafeteria without further incident.

Saint Patrick's Day social story




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