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Archived News: Across Virginia
June 2013

Virginia Autism Council Releases 2011-2012 Executive Summary

The Virginia Autism Council has released its 2011-2012 Executive Summary. The Summary is below in its entirety.

Virginia Autism Council Executive Summary

The Virginia Autism Council (VAC) is an interagency council of autism stakeholders that was formed in 2001. The VAC is the only autism interagency group which includes family members and self-advocates, plus represents services and supports across the lifespan, and meets regularly to determine ways to improve services for individuals with autism throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. The mission of the VAC is to provide leadership and coordination for state agencies and service providers and to increase knowledge and understanding of ASD in the wider community in order to maximize outcomes for Virginians with autism.

The VAC also works to highlight agency work and opportunities for collaboration in the area of autism awareness, education and service. In 2004, VAC developed the “Skill Competencies for Professionals and Paraprofessionals in Virginia Supporting Individuals with Autism across the Lifespan.” In 2010, VAC reviewed and revised the Skill Competencies. The Skill Competencies are used statewide and provide a comprehensive list of skills and knowledge needed to effectively serve individuals with ASD. They have been used as a model by other states as well as by the Council for Exceptional Children. One of the uses of the Skill Competencies is to assist with professional development of those serving this population. This year the VAC developed supplementary resources including a Skill Competencies Tracker for teachers and paraprofessionals. These documents are based on the Skill Competencies and allow individuals and organizations to track educational development in autism. They are available on the VAC website.

VAC’s website ( provides a clearinghouse for educational and training opportunities across the state. The VAC online training calendar provides information on training opportunities to advance personnel development and knowledge regarding autism throughout Virginia. This year VAC reconstructed the website to create a more usable and improved resource for parents and professionals. Both the content and structure of the site were redesigned. One of the major changes was to the online training calendar. Others may now enter trainings and events directly to the calendar, helping to more readily disseminate training information. VAC continues to update information, resources and the statewide training calendar regularly.

VAC has created and continues to manage a system for reviewing college/university coursework and certificate programs in autism to determine alignment with the Skill Competencies. Due to budget constraints beginning in 2012 the VAC was unable to provide reimbursement for coursework, yet continued to manage and market the programs available at local universities and community colleges. The VAC recognizes higher education institutions and their provision of coursework and certificate programs in the area of autism. Due to the revision of the Skill Competencies, currently recognized programs were provided with the updated version of the Skill Competencies and notified of a stream-lined process to determine alignment with their programs. To date, four universities have been approved for continued recognition.

The VAC has also created a number of trainings on relevant topics related to ASD. The trainings have been packaged and are designed to be used by both VAC members as well as other agencies. This year collaborative training development continued to be a major goal of the VAC and we are pleased to report that we were successful in this endeavor. VAC provided training with collaborative partners including: the Autism Society of America Central Virginia Chapter; Didlake, Inc; Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS); Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS); Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center (BRAAC), the disAbility Resource Center and the statewide Training and Technical Assistance Centers (T/TACs). Trainings were provided to over 500 professionals and family members across the state of Virginia. Trainings included “Proactive Strategies for Adolescents and Adults with ASD,” “Working with those with Asperger’s Syndrome,” “Effective Transitioning for Students with ASD into Adulthood,” “Early Intervention Strategies for ASD,” “Elementary Strategies for ASD,” a presentation on the “Skill Competencies” at the Commonwealth Autism Services (CAS) conference and the Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education (VCASE), and a webinar on “ Early Identification, Assessment and Characteristics.” These and other trainings are available for use by qualified professionals for their own agencies by simply visiting the VAC website for access information.

The VAC continues to update developed trainings to ensure the highest quality of information and resources is included. Two trainings, “Learning, Living and Working with Asperger’s Syndrome” and “My Child was Just Identified with Autism. Now What Do I Do?” were revised this year. Additionally, VAC collaborated with the VCU Autism Center for Excellence to develop the training “My Child was Just Identified with Autism Now What Do I Do?” into an online self-paced course for parents, childcare providers, support staff and additional stakeholders.. Thus far over 120 participants have accessed this course. Trainings will also be updated as necessary due to the upcoming changes in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V) due out in the spring of 2013.

The Virginia Autism Council continues to find ways to work across agencies, partners and communities to offer high quality information and training throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our work plan for the upcoming year demonstrates our commitment to increasing the awareness and educational opportunities in the field of autism.
For additional details and information please visit and review the attached annotated yearly work plan for the Virginia Autism Council.


What Does the Recent Release of the DSM-5 Mean for Virginia Schools?

A message from John Eisenberg, M. Ed, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education and Student Services, Virginia Department of Education, on the recent release of the DSM 5…

Concerns have been raised by stakeholders regarding the release of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM 5; American Psychological Association, In Press). Specifically, those concerned about the definition of Autism and related disorders have expressed concern regarding the impact that changes in the medical/psychological definition of Autism will have on special education services and eligibility. This message is meant to clarify the position of the Department of Education related to these changes and emphasize that changes in the DSM 5 should not influence educational eligibility or individual education program decisions.

Anticipated changes in the DSM-5 have resulted in questions pertaining to local evaluation and eligibility decision making processes in the area of autism spectrum disorders. The Virginia Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities (2010) contain specific eligibility criteria for each disability category and are not impacted by the upcoming release of the DSM-5.

The Virginia Department of Education has made no changes to current guidance for and procedures used by eligibility teams. All eligibility activity remains consistent with current procedures. Virginia Department of Education guidance documents continue to be located within the Virginia Department of Education website and are accessible here.

Eligibility teams should be reminded that a medical diagnosis or DSM category is not required by state regulation as part of an eligibility determination as a child with autism. Virginia provides specific eligibility criteria that must be followed. While the changes in the DSM-5 may result in changes to clinical or medical practice in Virginia, educational identification practices have not changed. VDOE Guidance on Evaluation and Eligibility for the Special Education Process (2009) highlights the distinction between educational identification and medical diagnosis.

Finally, IEP teams and Eligibility Committees should be reminded that the Virginia Regulations prohibit a student’s educational identification or disability category from being changed or removed without parental consent (8VAC20-81-170.E.1.b). Regulations also prohibit “any revision to the child’s IEP services” without informed parental consent (8VAC20-81-170.E.1.d).

For additional information on this topic contact Erin Smydra, VDOE Autism Specialist, by email at or by phone at (804) 371-7421.

For more information on the DSM-5, please visit the American Psychiatric Association website, this Factsheet on Autism Spectrum Disorder, and this summary article.


VCU Offers Post Baccalaureate Certificate in ASD!

Registration is Open!
The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education offers a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder. The four course sequence is designed to enhance knowledge and build skills in professionals who support a person with ASD. This includes special education and general education teachers, administrators, employment specialists, in-home therapists – anyone who wants to provide effective services! All courses are offered online to meet the needs of busy professionals! The first course, Understanding ASD, is offered Fall 2013. It provides a detailed overview of the characteristics of ASD throughout the lifespan and discusses key educational considerations as well as methods for evaluating practices and making sound intervention decisions. For more information please view the VCU School of Education website, or contact Dawn Hendricks, Ph.D. at


VA ABA Consortium – Second Cohort Starts this Month!

The VA ABA Consortium is excited to announce the beginning of its second cohort! From a large pool of applicants, the four participating college/universities, George Mason University, Lynchburg College, Old Dominion University, and Virginia Commonwealth University, selected 32 students to participate in the program starting in June 2013. Students will take the required six courses during the next year and will also be participating in supervised experiences. The coursework and supervision will allow students to be able to take the exam that leads to becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Participants in the first cohort of the VA ABA Consortium will successfully complete their coursework this fall.


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