Meeting of the Board of Regents | December 2007
THE STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT / THE UNIVERSITY OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK / ALBANY, NY 12234
Rebecca H. Cort
Education programs and services for students with autism, including Aspergers Syndrome
November 16, 2007
1 & 2
Issue for Discussion
Education programs and services for students with autism, including students with Aspergers Syndrome.
Reason for Consideration
For information. This item was on the October Regents schedule but due to time constraints, we were not able to complete the discussion of it. It is being brought back for further discussion and to answer any questions the Committee members may have.
Review and recommendations
Autism is a developmental disability significantly affecting a child’s verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction. The State rules and regulations most directly related to the education of students with autism include:
- Chapter 410 of the Laws of 1978 and sections 200.1(zz)(1) and 200.13 of the Regulations of the Commissioner establish requirements relating to special education programs and services for students with autism;
- Chapter 143 of the Laws of 2005 relating to required training in autism for administrators/supervisors working in special education and teachers; and
- Section 200.7 of the Regulations of the Commissioner relating to private school approval process.
In 1978, section 3 of Chapter 410 (an unconsolidated law) required the State Education Department (SED) to promulgate regulations relating to education programs for students with autism. The Regents adopted section 200.13 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education to require that students with autism:
- have access to the full continuum of special education services as needed;
- have the same chronological age range limitations as other students with disabilities grouped together for instructional purposes;
- have appropriate class sizes to meet their needs;
- receive instructional services to meet their individual language needs;
- receive instruction that would promote their inclusion in resource room programs and regular classes;
- receive transitional support services from teachers with a background in teaching students with autism;
- have the same entitlement and length of school day applicable to all students; and
- ensure parent counseling and training services are available to enable parents to perform appropriate follow-up intervention activities at home.
These rules were developed at a time when autism was best understood to include students with significant cognitive and language disabilities. Within the past decade, there has been a better understanding and diagnoses of the spectrum of autism related disabilities, including Asperger’s Syndrome.
Chapter 143 of the Laws of 2005 directs the Commissioner to prescribe regulations that require training in the needs of students with autism be provided to school administers/supervisors working in special education and authorizes the Commissioner to require training of teachers in the area of children with autism.
In alignment with federal and State requirements for placement in the least restrictive environment, section 200.7 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education establishes the program approval process for private schools serving students with disabilities, including those that may be approved to serve students with autism, to require documentation of regional need and sufficient evidence to establish that the proposed program will serve only those students who, because of the nature or severity of their disability, would require a separate facility.
Autism, as defined in section 200.1 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, means a developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction, generally evident before age 3, which adversely affects a student’s educational performance. Characteristics often associated with autism also include engagement in repetitive activities and stereotyped movements, resistance to environmental change or changes in daily routines, and unusual responses to sensory experiences. The spectrum of autism has, within the last decade, included students with Asperger’s Syndrome. A student with Asperger’s Syndrome may have normal intelligence and exhibit exceptional skills or talents in specific areas, but may have very literal language skills and difficulty using language in a social context.
In February of this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released findings that approximately 1 in 150 8-year-old children in multiple areas of the United States had an autism spectrum disorder. New York State (NYS) school districts reported, as of December 1, 2006, that there were 15,459 children between the ages of four and 21 that were identified with autism, of which 11,569 were between the ages of four and 13. Data over the past five years shows significant increases in the number of students classified with autism, as follows, 7,918 in 2001, 9,141 in 2002, 10,617 in 2003, 12,137 in 2004, and 13,617 in 2005 to the 15,459 students identified in 2006.
As the prevalence of autism in NYS as an educationally related disability has increased, so has the demand for information about autism, for more school programs with expertise to deliver effective services for students with autism and for more training for teachers and administrators. NYS has taken significant steps to address the unique needs of students with autism. However due to the growing number of students with autism, there continues to be an ongoing need for program development in public and private programs to ensure program availability remains consistent with population needs and to enhance program expertise to serve students with autism.
From 1999 to the present, VESID initiated several targeted activities to improve education services and results for children with autism, including the following:
- From 1997 to 2002, VESID funded the New York Autism Network (NYAN), which was comprised of four regional technical assistance outreach centers. These centers assisted educators and parents to better understand effective methods, program structures and other considerations for developing services and supports to meet the needs of individual students; and promoted regional collaboration in providing information, training and technical assistance on effective educational approaches for students with autism.
- In 1999, at the request of VESID, a State of the State Meeting on Autism was conducted by NYAN to identify statewide issues on the education of students with autism. As a result of this meeting, VESID, in consultation with a State Task Force on the Education of Students with Autism, implemented a comprehensive plan to address issues related to quality educational services to students with autism.
- In 2001, VESID worked with researchers to develop and disseminate “Autism Program Quality Indicators” (APQI) that reflect research-based practices to serve as a means for guiding quality improvement activities for schools and programs serving students with autism. The APQI are used extensively throughout NYS and have been requested for use in several other states and by schools and organizations in France and Canada.
- From 2001-04, VESID provided grant funds to 17 institutions of higher education in NYS to support the development of coursework relating to the education of students with an autism spectrum disorder on in-service and pre-service levels. Department funds also supported the development of a certificate program at the State University of New York (SUNY) Albany, focused on the education of students with autism and related disorders, offered across the State through distance learning media.
- In 2002, VESID developed a brochure Identifying Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to promote early identification of young children with autism. This brochure provides important information to parents on the early identification of students with autism spectrum disorders and the provision of appropriate education programs and services to support their learning and development.
- From 2002-05, VESID provided grant funds to NYS school districts to develop a continuum of quality, research-based educational programs for school-age students with autism where such programs were previously not available.
- In 2003-04, VESID identified and promoted the replication of schools with effective practices in instructional programs for school-age students with autism, to assist other schools in replicating their effective practices.
- In 2004, VESID conducted a study of the availability and effectiveness of preschool programs for students with autism. As a result, implications for policy and program development for preschool students with autism were identified. A copy of this report can be found at www.vesid.nysed.gov/specialed/autism.htm#AVAILABIL.
- For the past two years, VESID has annually provided $500,000 to the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) at SUNY Albany to provide training and technical assistance statewide for the implementation of best practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. The project includes skill building workshops for school teams to provide school personnel with the knowledge and skills needed to utilize positive behavioral supports and interventions to address challenging behavior in students with autism spectrum disorders; regional seminars for school professionals and parents disseminating information on positive behavioral support; and hosting a statewide conference to disseminate information on evidenced-based effective practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. Skill building workshops will be provided to several district-wide school teams in targeted areas of the State and professional development/parent seminars will be provided statewide during the 2007-08 school year.
- VESID is collaborating with the Office of Higher Education to develop regulations to implement Chapter 143 of the Laws of 2006, which requires that all special education teachers and administrators working in special education have coursework or training in the area of autism.
- As a new initiative, VESID is taking steps to establish a new model of short-term behavioral assessment and intervention units to assess and address the needs of NYS’ children with the most serious self-injurious and aggressive behaviors, with a goal to support these children in the least restrictive environment.
Current Initiatives to Expand the Availability of Education Programs for Students with Autism
Over the past two years, the Department has made significant progress in increasing its in-State capacity to serve students with disabilities currently placed out-of-state or at risk of being placed out-of-state. However, there continues to be a need for in-state programs to serve students with developmental disabilities, particularly those with autism.
Chapter 392 of the Laws of 2005 (“Billy’s Law”) has resulted in a five-year interagency plan to create additional in-state residential capacity by providing new placement options for students with disabilities currently placed out-of-state and those at risk of such placement.
- During 2006-07, 185 new residential beds became available to the Committee on Special Education (CSE), 35 of which were targeted for students with developmental disabilities such as autism. For example, the Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) and SED approved 12 residential beds for children with autism and behavioral challenges at Upstate UCP in Rome. The program opened on 9/1/06. Five of the students were returned from out of state and the others were at risk of out-of-state placements.
- During the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, approximately 200 new beds will become available for students with developmental disabilities, 60 of which will be in New York City (NYC).
- During the 2009-10 school year, an additional 80 beds for this population are scheduled to be available, most of them in NYC.
The NYC Department of Education (NYCDOE) has recently introduced the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Nest Program, an inclusion program specifically for higher functioning students with autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) in kindergarten through grade five. The program is designed to help children learn how to function academically, behaviorally and socially in their school and community. The program uses standard public school academic framework but with environmental modifications and individual adaptations to meet the needs of the students with autism spectrum disorders. The ASD Nest Program currently serves close to 200 children on the autism spectrum in neighborhood schools across all five boroughs. In addition, NYCDOE/District 75 plans to pilot a program within the next year to support and facilitate students with autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) entry into college.
VESID has approved expansion in day programs in eight approved private schools located in NYC to serve an additional 382 students with developmental disabilities, including students with autism and autism spectrum disorders.
Summary, Recommendations and Next Steps
The above initiatives exemplify NYS’ and the Department’s ongoing commitment to establish policy and provide technical assistance to ensure school personnel in NYS have the knowledge and skills to establish quality programs to meet the needs of students with autism. While it is the responsibility of school districts to ensure appropriate educational programs, we know that families of children with autism often need supports and services that extend beyond the school day. The participation of other agencies, such as OMRDD, is needed to develop the full range of specialized supports and services needed by students with autism and their families. VESID will take the following steps:
- Continue residential program development within NYS to meet the needs of students with autism and other developmental disabilities.
- Continue to benchmark with other states on quality program and training initiatives for students with autism.
- Work with OMRDD to establish a new model of short-term behavioral assessment and intervention units to assess and address the needs of NYS’ children with the most serious self-injurious and aggressive behaviors.
- Review statute and regulations relating to students with autism to ensure they address the full spectrum of autism-related disorders.