May 2, 2014


Lost in Translation, but Not Lost in Art

Leeland Lee in front of Dolphins and Butterflies

by Carol Schall, Ph.D.

Because of VCU-ACE’s research work on transition to adulthood for youth with ASD, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Taiwan with Dr. Andy Shih and on behalf of Autism Speaks. During this wonderful professional opportunity, I met an amazing artist, Leeland Lee. Before he could speak, Leeland was drawing. His art is full of color and imagination. In Leeland’s art, moose ride ponies to the moon, play guitar, and drink hot cocoa. The famous skyscraper, Taipei 101, beacons visitors to his fantastical skyscapes. The words “anytime” and “love” pop up in the most unexpected places.

This amazing talent may, in fact, be enhanced by the fact that Leeland has ASD. His world is visual. Despite this gift, Leeland continues to struggle with ASD. Whenever he is in a new environment, during waiting time, or just after a transition, Leeland asks questions, over and over again. The more anxious he gets, the louder he gets. The louder he gets, the more his anxiety rises. His mother becomes exasperated by his questions and his anxiety. As a young man with ASD in Taiwan, there are no services to help his family. There is no waiver, no job coaching, no in-home services, no case management, no government services. There is nothing but Leeland, his mom, Karen, and his art.

Knowing about the tenacity of a mom looking after her son, though, I knew I could work with Leeland and his mom to make his transitions better. At one of our many shared meals, I gave Leeland a list of topics he could use to have conversations with others. I also gave him a schedule of the events of the meal. With these visual supports, in pictures, Leeland was calm. He ate his lunch while his mom looked on. He had fun. The anxiety abated, and he was able to enjoy himself with the structure of the visuals. The inscription that Leeland wrote to me in the book depicting his art says “Life is Love.” Indeed it is, Leeland, indeed it is!

Carol Schall was in Taipei, Taiwan from March 17-26, 2014 with Autism Speaks. She presented on transition from high school to adulthood and the research in which she has participated with Dr. Paul Wehman and Team on Project SEARCH.

Register Now for the Paraprofessional Online Training Course!

September is right around the corner! Now is the time to register for the paraprofessional online course: Autism Spectrum Disorder for Paraprofessionals: Providing Effective Instruction and Supports. The May and June classes are already full, so register NOW for the July or August offerings before they fill to capacity! For more information and to register online, please visit the VCU-ACE website.

Newport News Schools Host Visitors from Saudi Arabia!

Three visitors with Sarah Lambrecht

The Newport News Public School (NNPS) Division’s autism assessment journey has taken an international turn! In the fall/winter of 2012, teachers in/and self-contained autism classrooms in Newport News were assessed using the APERS (Autism Program and Environment Rating Scale). After over a year of intense work on evidence-based practices, these same classrooms were reviewed for post assessment outcomes. Division compilation outcomes showed major gains for most domain areas – excellent work Newport News!

Due in part to Newport News’ progress using the APERS, the division was chosen to host a team of educators from Saudi Arabia. These educators are learning about the APERS at the National Professional Development Center (NPDC) in Chapel Hill, NC and needed the experience of a live demonstration site. Ann W. Cox, Ph.D., Scientist and Project Director at NPDC, brought the three visitors: Ashwaq Alzamel, M.Ed, Autism & Behavioral Disorders Specialist; Ahmed Jomaa, School Psychologist, Center for Autism Research at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center; and Rogaiyah Hamidaddin, Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, Center for Autism Research and Researcher at Prince Salman Center for Disability Research, to observe and learn from the Newport News classrooms and staff.

The visitors were in Newport News for three days in March 2014. They learned about the NNPS program for students with autism and how the staff had used the APERS to assess the programming, set goals, and implement evidence-based practices. The visit was a great success! The tour included visits to the classrooms of Stefanie Paul, Katie Palmer, Kim Keith, Marlon Hooker, Kasey Reed, and Sarah Lambrecht. The visitors also interviewed coaches, Teresa Crowson, Crystal Hunt, and Kim Keith. The program and process was explained to the guests by Wendy Clayton, NNPS, and Charlene Wentland, VCU-ACE. The feedback received was very positive and these educators were excited to go home to Saudi Arabia with lots of ideas and strategies for using the APERS assessment tool. As an added bonus NNPS now has new friends in Saudi!

Newport News has instituted additional training opportunities for staff this semester. Some of the secondary teachers of students with autism are involved in a literacy Professional Learning Community run by Daniel Beigun from the VDOE TTAC at ODU. This group is practicing blending literacy skills, vocational skills, academic skills, communication, and social skills into theme-based lessons and then identifying ASOLs for assessment. This has been a very creative and exciting community. In addition, in collaboration with the NNPS Parent Resource Center, Staci Carr, VCU-ACE, presented “Puberty, Relationships, and Sexuality” to a number of Newport News parents, teachers, and community members on April 22nd as part of April Autism Awareness Month.

Make Improving Goal Mastery Your Goal!

A reminder that VCU-ACE offers a self-paced online course, Improving Goal Mastery through Data-Based Decision-Making! This course, developed in collaboration with Grafton Integrated Health Network, provides a structured and systematic approach to developing, implementing, and monitoring goals and objectives written for students with ASD.

There are many strategies for instruction and intervention with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to teach skills needed to lead independent, productive, and happy lives; yet, these practices are often implemented without carefully monitoring the effectiveness of instruction. In this course, a structured and systematic approach to developing, implementing, and monitoring goals and objectives written for students with ASD is provided. The course begins by outlining how to write objective and measurable goals that will allow educators to determine whether a student is making adequate progress. Next, an overview of data collection, including types and purposes of data, is provided. The final section describes how to graph data and use graphs to make informed decisions. A focus is placed on regularly reviewing student performance on goals and objectives and making person-centered changes in approaches when needed to facilitate progress.

Register now to take advantage of this great self-paced learning opportunity.

News from Cohort 2 – Chesapeake City Public Schools!

The May 2014 Chesapeake SEAC (Special Education Advisory Committee) meeting will have a special emphasis on autism! The Autism Society Tidewater Chapter and the Chesapeake Public Schools, Autism Services Improvement Team, will present: “Autism, Putting the Pieces Together” on May 6th at the School Administration Building. For further information, visit the Chesapeake Public Schools website.

Register NOW for the VCU-ACE June Webcast on Understanding Challenging Behaviors and the Need for Social Skills Training!

Register today and plan to join us on June 17, 2014 at 3:30 p.m. for the airing of an informative webcast on Understanding Challenging Behaviors and the Need for Social Skills Training. In order to implement any strategy to help students on the autism spectrum, we first need to understand the reasons behind some of their challenging behaviors and understand the feelings those behaviors provoke in their caretakers. Jed Baker, Ph.D. discusses how caregivers can manage their own emotions so they can help manage those of their children or clients.

Dr. Jed Baker is the director of the Social Skills Training Project, a private organization serving individuals with autism and social communication problems. He also directs social skills training for Millburn Public Schools in New Jersey. He is on the professional advisory board of Autism Today, ASPEN, ANSWER, YAI, the Kelberman Center and several other autism organizations. In addition, he writes, lectures, and provides training internationally on the topic of social skills training and managing challenging behaviors. He is an award winning author of five books, including Social Skills Training for Children and Adolescents with Asperger's Syndrome and Social Communication Problems; Preparing for Life: The Complete Handbook for the Transition to Adulthood for Those with Autism and Asperger's Syndrome; The Social Skills Picture Book; The Social Skills Picture Book for High School and Beyond; and No More Meltdowns: Positive Strategies for Managing and Preventing Out-of-Control Behavior. His work has also been featured on ABC World News, Nightline, the CBS Early Show, and the Discovery Health Channel.