Services for Secondary Age Students with Autism or Social Skill Deficits

Services for students with disabilities for students in junior high/middle and high schools present issues and problems to parents, teachers, and administrators. At these campuses most students have many teachers, and change classes after each period. Teachers feel stretched dealing with a 100+ students a day. They have difficulty keeping up with IEPs, and required accommodations, in addition to the needs of all students, and the demands on them as teachers. There is also a general attitude that the students are “old enough” to be responsible for their actions, i.e., if the student is not being successful, it is because they choose not to be.

Most additional services for students focus on academic progress, and not student needs. Counselors at this level are given a lot of tasks that allow them little time for counseling activities. Time for dealing with students’ emotional, psychological, and social skills needs is limited, even if staff have the skills to do this. Even if the district finds funds to provide staff or consultants to address these needs, there are issues in scheduling these activities into the student’s day. Providing services after the school day and providing transportation home is a “nightmare” for schools.

Some students are placed in self-contained classrooms due to the nature of the student’s disability or needs. This placement and the amount of time may or may not be appropriate. Such placement should not be based on administrative convenience. However, providing general education teachers with training, and the support needed to work with more intense needs is complex, expensive, and takes a lot of coordination to do. Even getting an ARD/IEP team to agree to some inclusion in general education classes can be very difficult on many campuses.

Sometimes self-contained classes eat lunch in their classroom or at a separate table in the lunch room without the ability to mingle with other students. Segregation is also common for PE/health classes.

Often self-contained classes serve a wide range of ages, especially at the high school level. This may be due to a shortage of teachers, cost, limited space, rather than the needs of the students. If some students with, and without disabilities are coming and going frequently, that can reduce the isolation, and lack of peer interaction that happens in such classes.

Students with intellectual disabilities, autism, and emotional disturbance typically have social skills deficits, but their needs in this area are often not addressed. Even if social skills training is provided, the needs of all the students are so broad that many students’ needs are not addressed. Skills taught or demonstrated need to be practiced in realistic settings that often are not available. Settings with peers, or adults are not always available, or it is difficult to structure them so that they are beneficial to the student.

Texas Autism Supplement and Social Skills

Texas rules for students with autism require that ARD/IEP teams consider social skills training for the student. TEA guidance says social skills supports can include trained peer facilitators, video modeling, social narratives, or peer modeling. Putting these things in place take some time, and coordination. Teams are also to consider in-home training and communication training across all settings. This training should focus on generalization of IEP-related skills and include areas such as behavior management, interpersonal skills, and communication training. “A student with ASD may have difficulty generalizing skills from one environment to another. In-home/community-based training is an option an ARD Committee may choose for a student with ASD in order for the student to learn or reinforce social skills in a variety of settings.”

While these rules deal with students with autism, the logic for, and need for this training applies to other students with disabilities. Parents of all students with disabilities should advocate for and request training opportunities for their child to practice in a variety of settings.

Vocational training

Trips into the community for job training, or exploration can be beneficial for many students. (However, students in behavior adjustment classes, usually are not given these opportunities.) It is not always easy for staff to find work or training opportunities for students. Often students may get practice on important skills (following directions; understanding routines; etc.), but spend more time than is necessary, or do work or learn skills that will not lead to employment opportunities.

Parents can advocate for their child to be given a functional vocational assessment, and then provided training and skill development that can lead to jobs that are appropriate for their interests, and abilities. Many educators do not realize that a vocational evaluation is mentioned under the definition of transition services. Special education staff and diagnosticians often do not know what a functional vocational assessment looks like. So it is not uncommon for schools to use outside consultants or agencies, e.g., DARS, Commission for the Blind, sheltered workshops, local ARC’s and Lighthouses for the blind, if they agree to do a vocational evaluation.

What to do after student is 14 years old?

The TEA’s Texas Transition and Employment Guide and the Texas Administrative Code say that “Appropriate student involvement in the student’s transition to life outside the public school system” and “a functional vocational evaluation” are important to the development of the part of the IEP dealing with transition.

The Guide tells students at age 14 to complete interest and career inventories, to ask about developing a graduation plan, talk about their needs for assistive technology when working and to” request a functional vocational assessment if you need it.” Before the student turns 16, it tells them to “complete a functional vocational assessment if you need it.”

Even when districts administer interest inventories they may not do this well. Even if a person has some knowledge of their abilities and interests, they may not know what occupations relate to those abilities and interests. So they tend to select “common” occupations or those that they have some knowledge of.

The regulations say that a vocational evaluation must be done, “if appropriate.” This determination needs to be made by the ARD/IEP team, not one person. It can be helpful to be prepared to verbally and in writing state the reasons that it is needed/appropriate. If the school continues to say that it is not needed, the school must provide the parent with prior written notice of refusal. Such refusal can be the basis for a complaint and/or a request for mediation to TEA.

It is important to see transition and vocational evaluation as an ongoing process. While the student, parent and staff may quickly determine what the student’s abilities and interests are and set postsecondary goals, many students need more time. They may need time and help in identifying their abilities. They may also need exposure to what occupations exist and which ones relate to their abilities and interest. Also interests and goals can change as a person matures and gains knowledge of and exposure to more occupations.

High school vocational programs have programs and services that can assist students in identifying their abilities, setting vocational goals, and gaining skills to assist in reaching these goals. These must be accessible to students with disabilities. Sometimes district procedures may say that a student cannot participate until a certain age. In some cases these procedures may be discriminatory or be preventing the student from receiving FAPE.

One special education instructional arrangement available for ARD/IEP teams to consider is the vocational adjustment class/program (VAC). “This instructional arrangement/setting is for providing special education and related services to a student who is placed on a job with regularly scheduled direct involvement by special education personnel in the implementation of the student’s IEP. This instructional arrangement/setting shall be used in conjunction with the student’s individual transition plan and only after the school district’s career and technology classes (CTE) have been considered and determined inappropriate for the student.” TAC 80.63(c)(9) There is no reason that a student cannot take CTE courses and then participate in the VAC program.

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