For this post, I focused on the work that I do with our students with Autism at ESA. As the speech-language pathologist (SLP), I have the opportunity to see these students both in the classroom (for “push-in” sessions) and in small groups outside of the classroom (for “pull-out” sessions). This provides me with a unique perspective as I am able to gain a better understanding of the students’ learning environments and facilitate generalization of skills within the natural contexts of the school day. This is, after all, one of our main goals as special educators: to provide our students with the supports they need to be authentically included and engaged in the classroom. Much of the literature surrounding students with ASD in the inclusive setting discusses the need for a variety of instructional formats as well as specific strategies to redirect and engage students.

In their article “Supporting Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders in Inclusive Settings,” Leach and Duffy provide strategies to promote successful inclusion of students with ASD.

“Because of language and social interaction difficulties that students with ASD have, they often are simple unable to participate in the sit and get method of instruction. Instead, a variety of instructional activities (e.g., small-group instruction, peer teaching, cooperative learning, hands-on learning centers, one-on-one instruction, computers, and whole-group lessons that build in opportunities for active engagement) need to be part of the everyday learning experiences in the classroom.”

Further, Leach et al. go on to identify strategies to positively redirect students when disengagement occurs, citing the “prompting-fading procedure” as one of the most effective means of re-engagement.

“Prompts can include physical guidance, gestures, models, verbal cues, auditory stimuli, pictures, written text, and tactile stimuli (Green, 2001). Providing prompts to the students helps them understand what they are supposed to do.”

As much as classroom teachers recognize and value the benefit of providing one-on-one instruction to students with severe disabilities, they are typically not in a position to regularly do so with a classroom full of students. We know that providing individual attention to students with ASD increases their engagement in lessons and understanding of content material, but how can we make this a reality in our classrooms at ESA? It is my goal as the SLP, through push-in services, to deliver the one-on-one support that our students need to be authentically included in their classrooms. This way, the students don’t miss even more class material; instead, they experience the accomplishment of accessing and understanding class material alongside their peers.

I push in to Matt’s {name changed to protect student’s identity} literature class three times per week. For their last project, the students read in small “book club” groups, where each group was assigned a different book. This task was particularly difficult for Matt because the students had more independence and had to rely on discussion/interaction with their peers, which is extremely difficult for many students with ASD, Matt included. I worked closely with Matt’s group during this project. After the first weekend of reading (the students received individual calendars from their literature teacher and used them as a pacing guide for reading, which was a great visual support for Matt), I checked in with Matt at the beginning of the class period and he was clearly flustered. He’d only read a page or two and turned to me and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” He recognized that he was struggling, but didn’t have the means to identify the issue; I recognized that the transition from whole class instruction/participation (for the previous novel) to independent/peer reading (for the current novel) represented a shift in routine, which can be very disruptive to students with ASD. Matt required additional support to help him through this transition and to keep him engaged.

For the duration of this project, I provided one-on-one support to Matt embedded in his regular class instruction and assignments. We talked about his reading calendar and crossed off the completed days so that he could further visualize his progress. During small group discussions I used the “prompt-fading procedure” (Leach et al.) to help Matt prepare questions and statements so that he could be an active member of the group.  For example, one day the students were to prepare questions prior to their discussion. When Matt sat staring at his blank paper, I wrote a model discussion question on his sheet. When that wasn’t enough support for him to generate a question independently, I wrote the sentence starter for his next question and he was able to finish it. Prior to this day, I had not observed Matt to participate in group discussions unless questioned directly by a teacher. During this discussion, he independently participated twice. Matt needed support to access both the content and the task, and I was able to do this through prompting and one-on-one support.

For their final assessment in this project, the students prepared PowerPoint presentations of their books and presented in small groups of students. Matt required prompts for this assessment as well. For his slides, I again provided written prompts to help him get started. Matt’s confidence increased as he realized that he truly understood the book and had been an active participant, and at times the leader, in his group throughout the course of the project. As his confidence increased, he created his slides with more independence and did not require a prompt for the final slide. Further, during a pull-out session in the therapy room, Matt and I practiced for his presentation. I provided him a prompt in the form of a model by presenting his first two slides to him. We discussed eye contact as well as projecting his voice toward his audience (two areas of difficulty for him). This one-on-one support was vital in giving Matt the confidence to present in front of his classmates… and the pride that he felt after completing (and quite frankly, nailing – he got an “exceeds!!”) his presentation was palpable. Matt was visibly struggling to contain his smile at the end of the presentation, an expression of emotion not typical for him. He knew that he didn’t just “complete” an assignment… he genuinely learned and grew as student throughout the entire project… the individual attention I was able to provide to him facilitated authentic inclusion for Matt.