Friday, July 30, 2010

Back to School: Best Practice Recommendations

As our scientific knowledge and thinking about ASD continues to develop, professionals such as school and clinical psychologists, speech/language pathologists, behavior interventionists, social workers, special educators, and occupational therapists will be expected to play an important role in the educational planning of children with ASD by providing support, information, and recommendations to teachers, other school personnel and administrators, and families.

“A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools” features 50 best practice recommendations for screening, assessment, and treatment/intervention. Each provides the guidance needed by school and clinical professionals to make informed and scientifically-based decisions regarding the assessment, identification, and treatment of school-age children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). The following “best practice” suggestions are adapted from the text.
  • A standardized screening tool should be administered at any point when concerns about ASD are raised by a parent or teacher or as a result of school observations or questions about developmentally appropriate social, communicative, and play behaviors. 
  • A comprehensive assessment should include evaluation of multiple domains of functioning in order to differentiate ASD from other conditions and provide a complete profile of the child to facilitate intervention planning.
  • A thorough speech-language-communication evaluation should be conducted for all students referred for a comprehensive assessment. Deficits in pragmatic language functioning may not be detected on formal language tests and require nontraditional assessment procedures.
  • No one methodology is effective for all children with autism. Generally, it is best to integrate approaches according to a student’s individual needs and responses.
  • Advocacy should not interfere with being a scientist. School professionals should focus on empirically-based strategies and outcomes and not attempt to prove that one intervention is better than another.
  • Children with any identified ASD, regardless of severity, should be eligible for special educational services under the category of autism spectrum disorders, as opposed to other terminology used by school systems (e.g., other health impaired, developmentally delayed, neurologically impaired).
Adapted from Wilkinson, L. A. (2010). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism and Asperger syndrome in schools. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Copyright 2010 Lee A. Wilkinson. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The School Psychologist

As we know, there has been a dramatic increase in the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) over the past decade. Yet, compared to estimates, identification rates have not kept pace in our schools. It is not unusual for children with milder forms of autism (e.g., Asperger syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder-NOS, high-functioning autistic disorder) to go undiagnosed (if at all) until well after entering school. Likewise, despite a marked increase in the percentage of children receiving special educational services under the Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004) definition of autism, there are substantial numbers of children who have not been identified, especially more capable students on the spectrum.

Our increased awareness of autism, together with the clear benefits of early intervention, have created an urgent need for school professionals to identify children who may have an autism spectrum condition. As a result, school psychologists are now more likely to be asked to participate in the screening and identification of children with ASD than at any other time in the past. School psychologists are especially well prepared to conduct behavioral screening of students who have risk factors and/or present with warning signs of a spectrum condition. They play a critical role in case finding and by contributing to diagnostic activities, conducting psychoeducational evaluations, and guiding educators and parents to empirically supported interventions. Therefore, it is critically important to remain current with the research and up to date on scientifically supported “best practice” approaches that have direct application to the educational setting. By being knowledgeable about assessment and intervention and treatment approaches, including their strengths and limitations, school psychologists can help to ensure that children with ASD are being identified and provided with the appropriate programs and services.

Wilkinson, L. A. (2010). A best practice guide to assessment and intervention for autism and Asperger syndrome in schools. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Brock, S. E., Jimerson, S. R., & Hansen, R. L. (2006). Identifying, assessing, and treating autism at school. New York: Springer.

National Research Council (2001). Educating Children with Autism. Washington, DC:
National Academy Press.

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