Key Takeaway: The pandemic has disrupted teaching and learning in many ways. Students with IEPs likely had these documents changed to adapt to the current mode of learning. In particular, students with social-based interventions may have needed to put these on hold as social distance and virtual learning made these infeasible. As students return to a more normal school routine, IEP teams will have to reassess students’ Present Level of Performance (PLOP) and likely conduct reassessment and revision of IEPs. —Ayla Reau

Students with autism rely on routine and often require individualized instruction. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruption to education worldwide, Sarah Hurwitz, Blaine Garman-McClaine, and Kane Carlock (Indiana University Bloomington) sought to investigate how special educators and specialists adapted practices for such students in response to pandemic schooling conditions. 

“Special education professionals were asked to complete an online survey inquiring about service provision for students with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Participants reported:

  • making changes to Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). 
    • Adding Individualized Continuity of Learning Plans (ICLPs) to describe how service could be provided across learning modalities (i.e. online, hybrid, face-to-face). 
    • Adjusting service minutes to provide more flexibility
  • “having less time to work on behavioural goals, track student progress, or help students interact socially.” Some educators dropped social-based IEP goals and spent much less time implementing social interventions due to distancing requirements and inapplicability to virtual instruction, “with about 80% reporting more difficulty addressing social goals than before the pandemic.” 
  • having to stop using peer helpers and running social groups, which afforded fewer opportunities for social skills practice. 
  • making modifications to every aspect of teaching including materials, personnel, and format. Modifications were also made to who implemented the interventions, including coaching paraprofessionals who would then deliver small group instruction over Zoom and build collaboration with parents.

Overall, special education teachers described feeling less able to meet IEP requirements during online learning “and struggled to deliver the services, support, and attention that their students needed.”

However, the results also indicated the importance of collaboration between teachers and guardians. Getting and keeping caregivers involved in a child’s education is imperative to maintaining progress, especially while the children work from home. Since parents may not have the required training and experience needed to effectively implement their child’s education plan, offering the option to hold virtual parent-teacher meetings and case conferences may facilitate access. 

Educators also found that while some students with more intense needs struggled, others actually preferred virtual instruction. “For some students with autism, staying at home where they feel comfortable and can engage in self-regulating activities without negative social consequences, may reduce their stress and have positive impacts on learning.” This raises concerns for the future when social expectations resume. 

The authors conclude that students with disabilities are likely to have had a diminished learning experience during the pandemic. “As such, compensatory services may be required going forward.” They suggest that as schools return to more normal functioning, “IEP teams should assess what services were, in fact, delivered during school closures and across the changing educational modalities, and then conduct an assessment of each student’s current needs (i.e. reassess their Present Level of Performance (PLOP)).” If regression has occurred or limited progress was made in meaningful skills, the authors suggest IEP teams issue a COVID-19 compensatory services plan. Further, they predict reassessment and revision of IEPs to become common requirements as in-person learning resumes.  

Schools must also continue to address mental health and provide additional layers of support for teachers to address burnout, in order to retain the teachers they have, especially special education teachers. 

It is important to note that participants were all from public schools in Indiana, and the data was collected from a specific moment in the pandemic (middle of the 2020-2021 academic year), so their “perspective is grounded in experiences from a state that endeavored to open schools early, with precautions, allowing many school districts to offer hybrid and full-time in-person learning for considerable portions of the year.”

Summarized Article:

Hurwitz, S., Garman-McClaine, B., & Carlock, K. (2021). Special education for students with autism during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Each day brings new challenges”. Autism : the international journal of research and practice, 13623613211035935. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/13623613211035935

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

Key Takeaway: According to two studies,1,2 autism is diagnosed in 1 out of 100 people in England. It is imperative that transitions and plans for learners who are diagnosed with autism and needing additional services are put in place in order for them to experience success and independence in their adult years. —Nika Espinosa

In their article, Crane et al. (2021) gathered data on how educational professionals in the United Kingdom view the transition for young people with autism and additional learning needs in relation to the Children and Families Act (2014) and the associated SEND Code of Practice, as well as their experiences in the field. According to the author’s research, for young adults who have been diagnosed with autism and additional learning needs after age 16, education doesn’t look favorable. The studies done by Anderson et al. (2016)3 and Wehman et al. (2014)4 support this picture. Thus, “there is an urgent need to understand how to promote good outcomes for autistic young people with additional learning needs as they transition into adulthood.”

The authors focused on 3 key areas of the SEND reforms:

  1. Help and support
  2. Having a say
  3. Achieving better outcomes

When providing help and support for the students, educational professionals acknowledged the challenges of limited finances, inadequate support from stakeholders, and the shift to using experiential knowledge to inform pedagogy. The participants expressed that in the current economic climate, funds for training have diminished, and at times, only one educational professional gets the training and is then expected to share their newly acquired knowledge with other colleagues. Another issue educational professionals face is that they rarely have time to implement the training they have undergone and are sometimes relying on experiential knowledge to guide their practice. They also mentioned that even receiving support for these students in the local community has been difficult to obtain. For example, the waiting list for the mental health services is often quite long. “While this finding is not specific to post-16 education, an emphasis on implementation with this vulnerable group, at this crucial phase of education, is arguably more important here than at any other time.”

When it comes to giving their students a voice, the themes that emerged in the study were uncertainties around doing the right thing and flexibility in the school environment. “Despite using various tools and techniques to support students in having a say in their education, participants doubted whether they were using the ‘right’ strategies to elicit the voices of their vulnerable students.” One participant said part of their uncertainty was whether the students were providing honest answers, echolalic (repetition of spoken words), or giving answers that they believe their educational professional is expecting to hear. Sometimes, school systems can diminish student voices when up against accreditation requirements and curriculum demands. “Even if education professionals are able to elicit and document the voices of their pupils genuinely and meaningfully, this becomes tokenistic if their views cannot be acted on.” It’s therefore important that student voice is acted upon by the supporting community.

In the area of achieving better outcomes, the themes that emerged from the participants were the need for an individualized approach to identify successful outcomes for these young learners with additional needs and the concern about the opportunities available for them. The participants partly attributed their concerns to the follow-through of transition opportunities and the lack of awareness that a person with autism can contribute to the workplace and society. It is important that the individualized approach is complemented with opportunities. As the authors recommend, establishing school-work partnerships and providing support for these young adults in the workplace is imperative to their continuous growth as individuals and enables them to be successful in their adult years.

Summarized Article: Crane, L., Davies, J., Fritz, A., O’Brien, S., Worsley, A., Ashworth, M., & Remington, A. (2021). The transition to adulthood for autistic young people with additional learning needs: the views and experiences of education professionals in special schools. British Journal of Special Education. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8578.12372

Summary by: Nika Espinosa—Nika believes that personalized learning is at the heart of special education and strives to collaborate with educators in providing a holistic, personalized approach to supporting all learners through the MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

1. Baird, G., Simonoff, E., Pickles, A., Chandler, S., Loucas, T., Meldrum, D. & Charman, T. (2006) ‘Prevalence of disorders of the autism spectrum in a population cohort of children in South Thames: the Special Needs and Autism Project (SNAP)’, Lancet, 368 (9531), 210–215.

2. Brugha, T. S., McManus, S., Bankart, J., Scott, F., Purdon, S., Smith, J., Bebbington, P., Jenkins, R. & Meltzer, H. (2011) ‘Epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders in adults in the community in England’, Archives of General Psychiatry, 68 (5), 459–465.

3. Anderson, K. A., McDonald, T. A., Edsall, D., Smith, L. E. & Taylor, J. L. (2016) ‘Postsecondary expectations of high-school students with au- tism spectrum disorders’, Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 31 (1), 16–26.

4. Wehman, P. H., Schall, C. M., McDonough, J., Kregel, J., Brooke, V., Molinelli, A., Ham, W., Graham, C. W., Riehle, J. E., Collins, H. T. & Thiss, W. (2014) ‘Competitive employment for youth with autism spec- trum disorders: early results from a randomized clinical trial’, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44, 487–500.

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MARIO Connections

Zimmerman’s work is key to MARIO’s vision of self-directed learning and the process through which metacognition and metacomprehension develop. Throughout the entire Framework, one can find echoes of Zimmerman’s discussion of the development of self-regulation.

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Problem solving and goal setting are important components of self-determination that young people learn over time. This study describes and validates a model of teaching in early elementary grades that teachers can use to infuse these activities into existing curricula and programs. Can young children set goals for learning using the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, and can teachers implement this model in a variety of subjects and settings with students having diverse learning needs? Our results show that even the youngest students (ages 5 – 6) were able to set goals and use the model to achieve. Teachers used the model effectively to support the investigation of student interests, the facilitation of choices, and the goal setting and attainment of young children.

MARIO Connections

Palmer and Wehmeyer’s work motivates MARIO’s commitment to setting personalized learning goals at all stages of development. This study has implications for MARIO Educators at all levels, but particularly those who are supporting younger learners.