Trying to determine the best placement or program for your child with autism can be an overwhelming and daunting task; but knowing these 3 key interventions can help tremendously when narrowing down the field.
1. Opportunities to respond
This is by far the most important key intervention to look for. An opportunity to respond provides opportunities for students to actively respond to academic and behavioral instruction through interactions and requests. This could be a one-step command, an open ended question, an environmental manipulation, presenting novel materials, or a pause and expectant look. A good quality program has multiple ways for students to respond, with a rhythm that is fast enough to keep students engaged but with enough space to allow a child time to process and respond. A good quality program will also use this information to make changes to the ways in which they teach if their students are not meeting expectations. It is important to remember that the number of hours does not dictate a good program. A child may have 40 hours of services with very few opportunities to respond, or 20 hours of services with varied and multiple opportunities to respond. The program with fewer hours in this example would actually be a better quality one.
2. Data Collection
A good quality program will take and then use data to drive goals or treatment plans. Data needs to be used to evaluate how a child is progressing and when it makes sense to move onto the next goal. Your child’s data should be used to make decisions about next steps, but more importantly to ensure that teaching strategies are changing as necessary. A good quality program knows that the data collected should not only inform about the child, but also about the teaching practices in place. If a child is not making progress expected by the team, then changes to how the goal is being taught should occur. A goal with data indicating little or no progress should not be kept in place waiting for the child to learn the skill. Instead this data should indicate that the team needs to make a change to how the goal is being taught in order to help the child acquire the skill.
3. Plan for Generalization
A good quality program will always have a plan in place for generalization. Since children on the spectrum often struggle with generalizing skills, it must be part of the goal before moving onto the next one. It should be clear (and in writing as part of the goal) how the program will generalize new skills across people, materials and settings. Even better if you as the parent are part of the generalization plan, you and home are both novel people and settings in which to provide opportunities for generalization.