Across Virginia

News from Across Virginia

Interns with disabilities set to graduate from job training programs across Virginia

The program is aimed toward providing job and social skills to students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who otherwise might have a hard time finding employment. Since 2008, more than 700 high school students have participated in Project SEARCH in Virginia. This year, 150 students will graduate from programs at 17 job sites around the state.

Click here to read the full article.

Top 5 Things to Consider When Setting Up a Classroom

The beginning of the school year is right around the corner! Many teachers are setting up their rooms in order to provide their students with the supports needed to ensure success. As you set up your classroom for the upcoming year consider the following:

1. Structure your day
Children with autism thrive in a structured and predicable environment. Establish routines early on and keep it as consistent as possible. In a world that’s ever changing, routine and structure provide great comfort and support to a child on the autism spectrum. Define routines clearly and review routines daily. When you must deviate from your schedule provide warnings as soon as possible.

2. Use Visuals
A picture speaks a thousand words! Use them whenever you can. Children with autism learn faster and with greater ease when you use visuals. In fact, we all respond better to visuals. Show visuals of what to expect on the trip such as getting on the bus, arriving at the destination, planned activities, eating a snack and returning to school. Give written instructions instead of verbal whenever you can. Highlight or underline any text for emphasis.

3. Use Schedules
People with autism like order and detail. They feel in control and secure when they know what to expect. Schedules help students know what’s ahead. Picture schedules are even more powerful because they help a student visualize the actions. Schedules can be broad or detailed. You can use them with any sequence of events. Some students may require a personal daily schedule while other students may only need a daily schedule for the classroom.

4. Minimize Distractions
As you set up your classroom pay attention to where your students with autism will be seated. Windows, the hallway or free time areas can cause many distractions. Try to seat your student in an area that gives them an unobstructed view of your teaching. Look at your classroom walls. If anything on your wall does not support your teaching take it down. You don’t want your student focusing on a cute picture at the expense of valuable learning time!

5. Have a Calming Space
Stress, anxiety, and misunderstandings happen in the best classroom situations – so be prepared have a calming area for your student with autism. This area doesn’t have to be large, it can be as simple as a small corner behind the students desk with a chair or beanbag, some noise cancelling headphones, and a few fidgets. Practice visiting the area while the child is calm and happy. It may be helpful to have the child sit in the calming space when performing tasks that are known to upset the child.

VCU Study Finds Students With Autism Successfully Employed

Listen to the story on

Dr. Paul Wehman talks to WCVE about the employment potential of young adults with autism, and the impact of customized supports on unlocking the capabilities of these individuals. The interview is based on data from the Project SEARCH study. Click here for more information.

Chesapeake Schools Expand ASD Knowledge

Chesapeake City Public Schools’ Autism Services Improvement Team (ASIT) has taken a strong stand toward improving division knowledge about autism spectrum disorder.

The ASIT team invited Cohort 1 teachers, general educators, central office administrators, related service providers, and building administrators to participate in the Foundations of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Online Course to increase institutional knowledge of ASD throughout the division. To date, three Chesapeake leaders have facilitated online discussion groups. A total of 86 Chesapeake personnel have successfully completed this online course, with an 89% completion rate. Cohort 2 teachers and personnel will be encouraged to complete the Foundations course in the fall.

In the summer, the ASIT team, along with central office administrators, plan to embark on completing the online course, Evidence-Based Practices to Teach Students with ASD. By the fall, the invitation to participate in this course will be open to building administrators, Cohort 1 teachers, related service providers, and any other interested staff within the division.

In addition to this training, Cohort 1 teachers and coaches are receiving training and coaching in Visual Supports in the autism classroom. Coaches have received coaches’ training and will meet for support in monthly Coaches’ Meetings. Coaches, paired with ACE Technical Assistance Associates, are meeting with Cohort 1 teachers to support them as they plan and develop their visual supports and implement visual supports to fidelity in their classrooms.

Chesapeake is ready to invite the next round of Cohort 2 teachers to begin working with coaches in the fall.

Chesapeake and ACE are very proud to announce that one of our ACE Teacher/Coaches has been selected as the Chesapeake Elementary Teacher of the Year. Trish Momtsios is a LEAD Teacher at Hickory Elementary School and also serves as a Teacher/Coach with the ACE Grant Project. In addition to her Chesapeake work, Trish joined a group of Region 2 CoLA Book Club members this to present Drawing a Blank: Improving Comprehension for Students on the Autism Spectrum in Norfolk and Portsmouth. We are excited to have Trish working with the ACE Grant and so pleased with her accomplishments.

Spotsylvania County Schools Incorporate Book Studies into their Autism Professional Learning Community

It is no secret that visual supports can assist students with autism to become more independent. But, did you know that visual supports can support a student with autism to learn academic content? Teachers working with students with autism in Spotsylvania County Schools have been participating in a monthly professional learning group discussing different visual supports that can be used to support students on the autism spectrum that struggle managing their behavior and learning academic content in a traditional manner.

Each month, the group reads a chapter of the bookVisual Supports for People with Autism: A Guide for Parents and Professionals. Teachers implement one new visual support in their classroom and come to the monthly meeting with an example of the visual support to share with their peers. They also give examples of how this assisted the students in the classroom and any modifications that may of be made to the visual support to work for individual students. One teacher in Spotsylvania County, Jennifer McMichael shared that she loves the variety of visual supports that are brought to this group meeting. She loves the creativity that teachers use as the match visual supports to their students’ needs. She also stated that “this book study has allowed teachers working with students with autism to understand that even high functioning students with autism benefit from the support of visuals.”

Paige Carter, Autism Specialist for Spotsylvania County Schools, loves how teachers supporting students in the inclusive setting can use the great photo and pictures examples in this book to provide examples to general education teachers on how the general education curriculum can be modified. This book study has been so successful this year that the lead team has decided to hold a spring book study on communication strategies and autism.

For more information on how your division might conduct a book study, or to participate in one of the online book studies that are currently being held across the state of Virginia, contact Noel Woolard at