Effective IEPs for
Children with Autism
• Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
• Defining “appropriate” services
• Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
• “Educating Children with Autism” – NRC study
• Individualized Education Plans (IEPs)
• Components
• Process
Challenges of the Public School System
Challenges of Parents
Tips and Tools
Questions and Discussions
Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA)
• Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(Reauthorized 2004)
• Section 1400: Findings & Purposes:
(A) to ensure that all children with disabilities have
available to them a free appropriate public education
that emphasizes special education and related
services designed to meet their unique needs and
prepare them for further education, employment and
independent living
The challenge is defining “appropriate”
Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA)
• Section 1400: Findings & Purposes (new in 2004)
(E) supporting high-quality, intensive preservice
preparation and professional development for all
personnel who work with children with disabilities in
order to ensure that such personnel have the skills
and knowledge necessary to improve the academic
achievement and functional performance of children
with disabilities, including the use of scientifically
based instructional practices, to the maximum extent
Defining “Appropriate”
Special Education Services
for Children with Autism
Defining “Appropriate”
• 1987 Landmark research published by Dr. Ivar
Lovaas, showed of 47% of children who underwent
40 hours per week of intensive 1-on-1 instruction
called applied behavior analysis (ABA) achieved
normal intellectual and educational functioning, with
normal-range IQ scores and successful first grade
performance in public schools. In contract, only 2%
of the control-group children (n=40) achieved normal
educational and intellectual functioning
• 1993 Follow-up by McEachin, Smith, & Lovaas
Defining “Appropriate”
• 1999 Glen Sallows, Tamlynn Graupner, Wisconsin
Young Autism Project. Replication site for Lovaas
findings; 42% of 24 children attained “best outcome”
category after three years of intensive applied
behavior analysis (IQ and social gains to the
average/low average range)
Defining “Appropriate”
• 1999 Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General
Dr David Satcher, M.D., U.S. Surgeon General,
regarding autism states, "Thirty years of research
demonstrated the efficacy of applied behavioral
methods in reducing inappropriate behavior and in
increasing communication, learning, and appropriate
social behavior." (only non-drug treatment
Defining “Appropriate”
• 2005 Jane S. Howard, Coleen R. Sparkman, Howard
G. Cohen, Gina Green, Harold Stanislaw
Intensive Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was a
substantially more effective treatment for a group of
preschool children with autism than the mixture of
methods that is provided in many education and
treatment programs (known as “eclectic” methods).
Defining “Appropriate”
• 2006 National Institutes of Mental Health: “Among
the many methods available for treatment and
education of people with autism, applied behavior
analysis (ABA) has become widely accepted as an
effective treatment”
• http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/autism.cfm
Defining “Appropriate”
• What is Applied Behavior Analysis?
Applied behavior analysis ( ABA ) is the process of
systematically applying interventions based upon the
principles of learning theory to improve socially
significant behaviors to a meaningful degree (Baer,
Wolf & Risley, 1968/1987; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer,
Defining “Appropriate”
• What is Applied Behavior Analysis? (From the Center
for Autism and Related Disorders, CARD):
Identification of goals and objectives
Establishment of a method of measuring target behaviors
Evaluation of the current levels of performance (baseline)
Design and implementation of the interventions that teach
new skills and/or reduce interfering behaviors
Continuous measurement of target behaviors to determine
the effectiveness of the intervention, and
Ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of the intervention,
with modifications made as necessary to maintain and/or
increase both the effectiveness and the efficiency of the
Defining “Appropriate”
• ABA can include a variety of teaching techniques
• Discrete Trial Teaching
• Verbal Behavior Training
• Natural Environment Teaching
• Pivotal Response Training
• Picture Exchange Communication System
• Errorless Learning
• Fluency Based Instruction
Defining “Appropriate”
• Myths regarding Applied Behavior Analysis
• Discrete Trial Teaching and “Lovaas” programs
are unnatural and restrictive
• Child remains at chair/table for all of teaching
• Verbal Behavior Training is better and more
natural than ABA
• Children become robotic after ABA therapy
• ABA does not allow for inclusion with typical
Defining “Appropriate”
• Truths about Applied Behavior Analysis
• Data intensive – it’s a lot of work!
• Requires significant training and supervision of
service providers
• Requires experienced professionals to direct and
oversee programs
• Requires continuous evaluation, measurement,
and modification of programs to move children
• Basic premise: It’s not that the child can’t learn,
it’s that we haven’t figured out how to teach him
Defining “Appropriate”
• Handout: “Guidelines for Consumers of Applied
Behavior Analysis services to Individuals with
Autism”, Autism Special Interest Group,
Association of Behavior Analysis, May 23, 1998,
updated 2004:
• . . . All children and adults with autism and
related disorders have the right to effective
education and treatment based on the best
available scientific evidence. Research has
clearly documented the effectiveness of Applied
Behavior Analysis (ABA) methods in the
education and treatment of people with autism.
Defining “Appropriate”
• (continued) Planning, directing, and supervising
effective ABA programs for people with autism
requires specific competencies. Individuals with
autism, their families, and other consumers have
the right to know whether persons who claim to
be qualified to direct ABA programs actually have
the necessary competencies. Consumers also
have the right to hold those individuals
accountable for providing quality services, i.e., to
ask them to show how they use objective data to
plan, implement, and evaluate the effectiveness
of the interventions they use.
Defining “Appropriate”
• Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA)
• National Standards for curriculum, experience
and supervision
• Testing, certification, and national registry
• Behavior Analyst Certification Board:
Defining “Appropriate”
Landmark Publication:
Educating Children with Autism
2001, National Research Council
AKA: “NRC Study”
Defining “Appropriate”
2001 Educating Children with Autism
• Study undertaken by the National Research Council
at the request of the U.S. Department of Education’s
Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
• Formed the Committee on Educational Interventions
for Children with Autism
• Charged the committee to integrate the scientific,
theoretical, and policy literature regarding autism
treatment and develop recommendations
Defining “Appropriate”
Educating Children with Autism Recommendations:
• Children with any autistic spectrum disorder,
regardless of level of severity or function, be eligible
for special education services within the category of
• Educational services begin as soon as a child is
suspected of having an autistic spectrum disorder
Defining “Appropriate”
Educating Children with Autism Recommendations:
• Services should include a minimum of 25 hours a
week, 12 months a year, in which the child is engaged
in systematically planned, and developmentally
appropriate educational activity toward identified
• Low student/teach ratios (no more than two young
children with autistic spectrum disorders per adult in
the classroom)
Defining “Appropriate”
Educating Children with Autism Recommendations:
• The content of the curriculum for children with
autistic spectrum disorders should be based on
sound research
• Education at home, at school, and in community
settings remains the primary treatment for young
children with autistic spectrum disorders
Education = Treatment
Defining “Appropriate”
• In summary, consider the following factors when
determining whether educational programs are
effective and appropriate for children with autism
• Intensity, intensity, intensity
• Coordination across settings and service providers
(including home)
• Student to teacher ratio
• Continuous measurement
• Ongoing evaluation
Individualized Education Plans:
Components and Process
IEP - Components
• General Info (name, age, address, phone)
• Statement regarding how disability impacts
access to the general curriculum
• * Students strengths and needs (relative to
content standards)
• * Accommodations, modifications, and supports
• Access skills
• Behavior modification plan?
* Important area for parent input
IEP - Components
• *Assessments:
* Important area for parent input
IEP - Components
• Determination of Eligibility
• *Determination of Disability (make sure it says
Physical Disability – Autism)
• *Goals and Objectives, to include baseline and
evaluation criteria
• Placement alternatives (special classes,
community services, special programs, out of
district, home/hospital)
• *Specialized instruction and related services plan
* Important area for parent input
IEP - Components
• Transportation as a related service
• * Placement alternatives
• * Recommended placement in Least Restrictive
Environment (LRE)
• Placement rationale
• Percentage of time in regular education
• Participation in district-wide assessments
• * How parent will be notified of progress
• * Eligibility for Extended School Year (ESY)
• Signature page
* Important area for parent input
IEP - Process
• IEP developed at least annually
• School should coordinate date and time and
send you a written notice of meeting
• School staff will be conducting assessments
and preparing prior to meeting
• School may choose to develop a “draft”
document before the meeting
• IEP Team composed of school staff, parents,
and parent’s representatives
• Team should go through each component of
the IEP and discuss
IEP - Process
• Parents should be prepared to provide
meaningful input and challenge any aspect
they do not agree with
• Signing the IEP indicates attendance only (not
acceptance of the plan)
• Under IDEA, parents can proceed to dispute
resolution if they do not agree with the IEP
• Mediation
• Resolution Session
• Due Process
IEP - Process
• Recommendation:
• Do not “wait and see” or plan to use mediation or
due process to get appropriate services
• Be involved from the beginning
• Become the squeakiest of the squeaky wheels before
you even finish the IEP, and keep squeaking after it’s
• There are several examples in this community of
families obtaining effective, appropriate treatment
without an attorney and without paying out of pocket
Challenges of the Public
Schools and Parents
Challenges of the Public Schools
• Schools not responsible for providing “best”
services (chevy vs. cadillac)
• Average cost of quality ABA programming
nationwide is $50,000 - $75,000 annually
(handout: Autism Rising)
• Funding of special education through the public
schools not easily isolated/quantified
• Inclusion emphasis/misunderstanding
• Staffing and training
• Organizational structure
• Archaic service delivery models
Challenges of Parents
You are not an education expert
You are not an autism expert
Autism is overwhelming in and of itself
Emotions and tempers easily flair
Adversarial situations are stressful and
exhausting (easier to avoid them)
YOU can be your child’s best and most
effective advocate!
Challenges of Parents
• You are not an education expert (You are an
expert when it comes to knowing your child)
• You are not an autism expert (Neither is the
school staff)!
• Autism is overwhelming in and of itself (Your
quality of life will improve for yourself and your
family if you obtain effective treatment)
• Emotions and tempers easily flair (Don’t sweat it.
Where will these people be in 20 years?)
• Adversarial situations are stressful and
exhausting (Your life will be less stressful if you
obtain effective treatment for your child)
You MUST be your child’s best and most
effective advocate!
Tips and Tools for Parents
Tips and Tools
“School districts can always be
counted on to do the right thing
. . . after they have exhausted all
other possibilities.”
Widely attributed to
Winston Churchill
(sort of)
Tips and Tools
Most important task for parents:
• Research appropriate and effective treatments for
autism (research and evidence based)
• Know and understand your rights under IDEA
• Know and understand the IEP process and how
services will actually be delivered afterward
Tips and Tools
Second most important task for parents:
Decide what you want for your child
• After doing your research, what is best for your
child and your family?
• If you don’t know where you are going, you
probably won’t like where you end up!
Tips and Tools
Third most important task for parents:
Prepare for your IEP meeting
• Ask for draft goals/objectives from the school
prior to the meeting
• Obtain outside assessments and opinions to help
you prepare – bring an advocate or friend
• Get into the weeds of the IEP and the program
itself (visit the classroom, observe and ask
• Develop your own list of goals and objectives
Tips and Tools
Students strengths and needs
• Focus on needs that support your position for
methodology, service delivery, or placement
• Examples: Learning area free from distractions,
structured and predictable environment, one-toone and small group instruction to acquire new
skills, opportunities and facilitation to generalize
learned skills, opportunities for facilitated peer
interactions, frequent parent/home
communication, etc.
Tips and Tools
Accommodations, modifications, and supports
• Focus on accommodations that support your
position for methodology, placement, or service
• Examples: constant supervision, assistive
technology, picture schedule, frequent
reinforcement, sensory breaks, functional
behavior assessments, consistent systems to
identify and eliminate inappropriate behaviors
proactively, etc.
Tips and Tools
• Make sure assessments are objective and
compare your child to specific standards or
percentiles that can be objectively applied to
determine progress
• Avoid and question subjective commentary
regarding performance and abilities
• Diagnostic assessments from JFK Partners in
Denver or Children’s Hospital highly encouraged
Tips and Tools - Assessment
• Highly recommended assessment tool:
Assessment of Basic Language and Learning
Skills (ABLLS)
• Assessment, curriculum, and skills tracking guide
• Developed by Drs. James W. Partington and Mark L.
• Breaks skills down into 25 areas, up to 81 levels of
• Very detailed, but simplifies/streamlines
development of goals and objectives
Tips and Tools - Assessment
Assessment of Basic Language and Learning
Skills (ABLLS)
• ABLLS training available nationwide through
Tips and Tools
Determination of Disability
• Ensure Physical Disability – Autism is
designated, especially if it supports your position
for methodology, placement, or service delivery
• Published research on effective treatment is
related to the disability of Autism
• Autistic Spectrum Disorders INCLUDE:
PDD-NOS, Autism, Aspergers, Rett’s Disorder
Tips and Tools
Goals and Objectives
• Need to determine where child is (baseline) and what
the next reasonable step to teach is
• Children usually have needs in many areas:
Communication (expressive and receptive)
Goal Areas for
Life/Self Help Skills
Tips and Tools
Goals and Objectives
• ABLLS assessment clearly outlines current level of
functioning and next steps to teach
• Can generate 50-60 objectives (this is not excessive
for a child diagnosed with autism)
• Number of goals and objectives should support and
be consistent with the methodology, placement, and
service delivery model you are seeking
Tips and Tools
Goals and Objectives
• Objectives must be MEASUREABLE – you need to
understand how it is measured and when it will be
considered met/mastered
• Make sure objectives always outline
INDEPENDENCE as the final target
• Baselines need to be specific for each objective
(where is she performing right now?)
Tips and Tools
Example of poorly written objective: Johnny will
complete his backpack routine with assistance in
50% of opportunities
What does “with assistance” mean
Why only 50%?
Re-written: Johnny will complete his back pack routine
independently. Criteria: Zero-prompt task analysis
Tips and Tools
Example of poorly written objective: Johnny will
improve fine motor skills by holding and using
What does “improve” mean
What does “using” mean
Re-written: Johnny will cut on a line across a sheet of
paper independently
Tips and Tools
Example of poorly written objective: Johnny will
identify a variety of shapes and colors
How many is “a variety”
Re-written: Johnny will receptively identify eight
different colors and four different shapes.
Criteria: 90% accuracy across three sessions
Tips and Tools
Goals and Objectives
• A poorly written objective supports minimal
progress and accountability
• Under IDEA, student needs to make “meaningful
progress” as outlined in the IEP
• If the IEP is subjective, slight improvement can be
supported as “progress” by the school district
Tips and Tools
Specialized instruction and related services plan
• This page outlines WHO will provide services and
for how many hours
• Includes: Speech therapist, OT/PT, augmentative
communication specialist, behavior specialist,
SPED teacher, para, regular education teacher
• Important to advocate for FULL TIME programs in
the pre-school and kindergarten years (Per the
NRC Study, Educating Children with Autism)
• Advocate for supervision and skilled/trained
professionals – request outside help
Tips and Tools
Placement alternatives and recommended
placement in Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
• Discuss what alternatives are available
• School will usually not accept alternate placement
without further elevation/administration
• Exception is severe behavioral problems
Tips and Tools
How parent will be notified of progress
• Establish feedback system (daily/weekly/
monthly) to track child’s progress
• Ensure data collection systems are established,
understood, and agreed upon by all members of
the team (including parents)
• Modify program if progress not being made (3-6
weeks is a good measuring point)
Tips and Tools
Eligibility for Extended School Year (ESY)
• Under Colorado Department of Education policy,
ESY services are provided to maintain learned
skills ONLY
• NRC Study conflicts with this policy by
recommending 25 hours per week of services year
• Come prepared with documentation to show
learning progress and regression during school
breaks, demonstrate how child’s individual needs
and disability require consistent service delivery
Tips and Tools - Implementation
The IEP is only the first step, actual implementation is
the true test of the program’s adequacy
• Observe what is going on in the classroom
• For each activity during the day, ask the following
• What is the learning objective?
• Does child know what is expected of him/her?
• Does child have pre-requisite skills to be
Tips and Tools - Implementation
• If the activity is not meaningful (previous
questions cannot be answered), recommend
improvement or other activity (1 on 1 teaching)
• Progress should be evident in 3-4 weeks; if not,
question teaching technique, skill of para, prerequisite skill, etc.
• Don’t wait until the end of the year to question
• Become the squeaky wheel
Tips and Tools - Implementation
• Try to work your concerns with the staff directly
• Follow up, in writing (not e-mail) to identify your
concerns and whether or not they are being
• Concerns should be related to the IEP
• If an area of concern is identified that is not
covered in the IEP, request a meeting to discuss
and/or draft new document
• Formalizing communication usually results in
service improvement - lets the District know you
are serious
Tips and Tools - Resources
Parent Resources Wrightslaw at
Tips and Tools - Resources
Parent Resources (Recommended Reading):
Behavioral Intervention for Young
Children With Autism: A Manual for
and Professionals (by Catherine
A Work in Progress: Behavior
Management Strategies & A Curriculum
for Intensive Behavioral Treatment of
Autism (Paperback) by Ron Leaf, John
McEachin, Jaisom D. Harsh
Tips and Tools - Resources
• Alpine Autism Center (719) 955-3767
• Stephanie Meador, M.Ed, BCBA
• Other licensed BCBA’s in Colorado Springs:
• Dr. David Hatfield
• Jennifer Williams, MS
• LaRee Kelly Warner, MA
• Behavioral Psychologist:
• Dr. Marcia Braden
• Parents: the more involved you are, the better
your child’s services will be
• Educate yourself regarding effective treatment,
teaching techniques, and the definition of
“meaningful progress”
• Remember the components of effective
programming: intensity, student to teacher ratio,
coordination across settings, continuous
measurement, and ongoing evaluation
• Become the squeaky wheel
Questions and Discussions

AFSPC Briefing Template - POAC-NoVA