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Archived News: What's New
April 2012

New Online Autism Training for School Paraprofessionals - Announcement Corresponds with Autism Awareness Month

Teachers’ aides and other paraprofessionals serving students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can now enhance their knowledge and skills through an online training program developed by the Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center of Excellence (VCU ACE) and Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

The course, Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports, includes five learning modules:
• Characteristics of ASD;
• Roles and Responsibilities of the Paraprofessional;
• Foundational Instructional Practices;
• Supporting Communication and Social Skills; and
• Providing Positive Behavior Supports.

“Paraprofessionals are on the front lines every day with students with autism spectrum disorder,” VCU ACE Director of Training Dawn Hendricks said. “Training is essential to improving educational experiences and outcomes for these students.”

In December 2011, the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions reported 13,137 students with autism as their primary disability, a 490 percent increase since 2000, when 2,226 children were identified as having a form of ASD. This increase mirrors national statistics and is the subject of research to better understand the causes of autism and factors contributing to the rise in the number of children diagnosed.

“These statistics underscore the importance of VDOE’s partnership with VCU to assist school divisions in educating and supporting children with autism spectrum disorder and preparing these students for productive and independent lives,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said. “This new training course will equip teaching assistants, bus aides and other support staff with the knowledge and skills they need to help students with autism experience success.”

Autism Spectrum Disorders for Paraprofessionals is a self-paced course that provides flexibility for both paraprofessionals and their employing school divisions to meet their training needs. Participants earn a certificate of completion if they have review all content and have score a minimum of 80 percent on each of the five quizzes to receive a passing grade for each lesson. Registration for the May session is now open through the VCU-ACE website. The course is free to Virginia residents through a grant from VDOE.

House Bill 325, which was approved by the 2012 General assembly and is awaiting action by Governor Robert F. McDonnell, requires school divisions to ensure that aides assigned to work with teachers who have primary oversight of students with ASD receive training in student behavior management. The legislation also directed the state Board of Education, in consultation with VCU, to develop an online training program divisions may use to comply with the new requirement.

“VDOE will continue to work in partnership with VCU’s Autism Center for Excellence to ensure that the course addresses any additional standards and competencies identified by the Board of Education,” Wright said.

More information:

VCU-ACE website


United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Announce Updated Autism Prevalence is One Child with an ASD to Every 88 Children in US!

A Message from Carol Schall, Ph.D., Director of Technical Assistance

One in every 88 children has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Let me repeat that statement: one out of every 88 children has an ASD. When considering boys, that number is even more shocking. For boys, the reported prevalence is one out of every 54 children. That means that slightly over 1% of all school aged children may have an ASD. Ten years ago, in 2002, the measured prevalence was one child with an ASD to every 250 children. In fact, for some time now, the projected prevalence of ASD has been the fastest rising developmental disability in the world. Extrapolating that figure to the entire population of children between the ages of birth to 18 years old in the 2010 census means that there could be as many as 842,702 children in the US right now with an ASD.

Behind this overall prevalence, there are some interesting findings though. For example, this new data suggests that the majority of children with ASD do not also have an intellectual disability. In addition, while there is an increase in the prevalence of ASD in every racial group, according to the CDC, the greatest increase is noted for black and Hispanic children. Finally, the average age of diagnosis has dropped, but not low enough. Research suggests that early intervention for young children with ASD is most effective when it starts before the age of 3 years old, yet, the average age of diagnosis for most children in the study is after the age of 4 years old. This data suggests two important issues. First, we must continue to educate pediatricians to look for the signs of ASD earlier at well baby visits. Second, we must continue to work for equity in health care across race and national origin.

While we ponder and adjust to a world where ASD is common, we must not forget that numbers do not tell the whole story of a group of people. Behind these numbers are children, adolescents and adults in need of services and, yes, excellence from their teachers, bus drivers, principals, baby sitters, cafeteria workers, and families. More than the numbers themselves is the need. Perhaps that is the real story to discuss as we ponder the effect of this increased prevalence. Almost one million children (.84 million to be exact) in the United States have support needs that may exceed their school’s ability to meet them. To be fair, many children with ASD are being educated successfully in their public schools. Nevertheless, most teachers and schools in the United States report that they struggle to understand how to educate children and adolescents with ASD. That is where VCU ACE can be most effective. It is our mission and passion to make these children welcome in their school and neighborhoods. We work for a day when all 0.84 million children with an ASD live, play, and learn next to their brothers and sisters. We work in schools, with teachers, principals, educational administrators, paraprofessional educators, families and others who love and care for children and youth with ASD to assure that these children are college ready, career ready, actively engaged citizens in their communities.


New Course on Supporting Positive Behaviors Opens with Huge Interest!

Have you ever had a student with a behavior that interfered in their learning or the learning of others in the classroom? If you have or if you are just curious about behavior then this is the course for you. The Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders course will make its debut on April 16, when eighty learners will embark on a four week journey that will provide them with information and strategies to incorporate into their daily activities to proactively support students with ASD demonstrating interfering behaviors. The course first begins by addressing the fundamentals of behavior and the relationship of behavior to the core deficits of ASD. Once learners have a solid understanding of how and why behavior develops they will explore and break down the Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA) process. Learners will navigate their way through the process learning to define behaviors, understand behaviors, observe behaviors, and develop a hypothesis statement about the behavior. Discussion of the FBA process will then lead the learners into investigating strategies that can be used when developing a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) for students with ASD.

Throughout the course learners will be guided as they follow three individuals with ASD who demonstrate behaviors by completing Think About It! and Apply It! activities. These activities will provide the learner an opportunity to apply the information they are learning in the course. Upon completion of the activities in the course, including a quiz to assess acquired knowledge, the learner will receive a Certificate of Completion. The next Strategies for Supporting Positive Behaviors in Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders course will be offered starting June 18. Enrollment for the June 18 course will open on April 18. Be sure to register early to guarantee yourself a spot in this invaluable course!


Virginia BCBA Consortium Coming Soon!

VCU-ACE is pleased to help launch the Virginia Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) Consortium! This consortium will allow people to register for college courses in Virginia that will prepare them to sit for the BCBA exam. George Mason University, Old Dominion University, Lynchburg College, and Virginia Commonwealth University will all host locations for students to take the courses. Courses in this consortium will be taught in one of the locations and students will be able to sit in any of these locations to take the courses virtually. The first cohort is scheduled to start in the Fall of 2012. More information will be available soon so please make sure to check our website!


2012 CoLA Summer Institute Planned!

VDOE and VCU-ACE are pleased to announce that a Summer CoLA Institute is being planned for statewide Community of Learning in Autism (CoLA) participants on June 20-22, 2012 in Richmond. This 3 day conference will bring together statewide leaders in autism for networking and learning opportunities in coaching and teaming, transition, and communication and social skills. More details and registration information will be available soon. Please contact Becky Boswell, VCU-ACE Outreach Coordinator, for more information –


Exciting Things are Happening in Greensville Public Schools!

It’s been a busy year in Greensville County! President Obama visited Greensville High School in October and Greensville County Public Schools and VCU-ACE are near the end of the first year of our partnership. Greensville made a strong statement at the beginning of this project by choosing the following Vision Statement: “We do not teach labels, we teach children.” That commitment has helped provide the continuing push to insure that all of the children diagnosed with autism in their division receive individualized instruction and supports from K-12.

Middle School is a tough time for all students and to help their students on the spectrum, Greensville has launched a social skills group at Wyatt Middle School that is based on the PEERS (Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relationship Skills) program run out of UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The program helps teachers individualize instruction and tackle issues such as conversational skills, making friends, teasing, bullying, telling jokes, and handling disagreements.

Greensville is also moving forward with one of their key goals -- “By August 2016, all professionals and paraprofessionals employed for a minimum of 3 consecutive years at GCPS will have completed their 'Autism Competency Portfolio.” The Autism Service Improvement Team (ASIT) has been meeting monthly and is using the Virginia Autism Council’s Skill Competencies for Professionals and Paraprofessionals as a core resource. Led by two teachers, Marchae Cannady and Bridget Brown, the team has been meeting with teachers, paraprofessionals, and other key stakeholders to insure that the ‘Autism Competency Portfolio’ meets Greensville’s needs. Mrs. Cannady and Mrs. Brown have also started a bi-monthly meeting for the teachers and paraprofessionals working directly with students diagnosed with autism at the elementary and middle school level. Greensville has also adopted the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP) as an assessment instrument to help their teachers identify the areas of greatest deficit and address them in a comprehensive way. Under the stewardship of Dr. Heritage Rae Mitchell and Mary Wellman, Greensville County Public Schools continues to demonstrate their commitment to all of their students.


Botetourt County Public Schools are Enthused about Coaching!

Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) has been making great strides in providing coaching across the division, and recently, things have really begun to ramp up! Two areas that BCPS is focusing are language instruction and social skills instruction. In each area the division has begun to engage in a comprehensive systems-change program involving training and, more importantly, coaching around both assessment and evidence-based instruction.

To help support professional development around the area of language instruction for students with ASD, BCPS analyzed various sets of scope and sequence and decided to pursue the use of the Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program (VB-MAPP). To support language instruction, Moving Toward Functional Social Competence was chosen. Each of these tools was selected for division-wide use to achieve consistency of instruction across settings throughout the division.

In moving towards division-wide implementation, BCPS recently engaged in two-day sets of workshops led by TA Associates Steven Celmer and Teresa Lyons. To ensure sustainable practice, on day one the division elected to have the TA Associates first train the selected division coaches. Then on day two, the division coaches used the skills that they had gained to deliver training to educational teams from the division. The teams have since been working to complete the assessment for one student on their caseload, and have been receiving follow-up coaching from the division coaches to further support their learning of either the VB-MAPP or Moving Towards Functional Social Competence.

While this training and coaching process on assessments is scheduled to continue through the end of this school year, starting in the 2012-2013 school year, BCPS will move toward supporting staff in translating the assessment information into evidence-based instruction for both language and social skills. Relevant practices will be targeted, and the same process of “TA Associate coaches Division Coaches – Division Coaches coach Teams” will be repeated to ensure that skills and knowledge reach the level of implementation in the classroom.


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