Students on the autism spectrum have difficulties with social thinking and executive planning skills. School systems teach these students the skills they need to function.
Positive Steps, written +steps, is a program that works to help students develop these skills over the course of every school day.
Starting in late elementary school and into middle school, the deficits get bigger and bigger, said Taryn Bates, the +steps teacher at Nissitissit Middle School. She addressed the North Middlesex Regional School District School Committee meeting on Monday.
Some of her students have incredible cognitive skills but cannot function as well as some of her students with lesser cognitive abilities who have better social and executive planning skills, she said.
The program at the middle school has evolved since 2010 when there were two teachers for four grades and included the language-based program.
Now, three special-needs teachers and five assistants help +steps students in the four grades. The students are split into tracks based on the difficulties they have with non-cognitive skills.
Paraprofessional staff members help the students in the +steps program when they are included in the mainstream classrooms.
“That’s the hardest piece,” Bates said.
Beth Baldarelli teaches +steps at the high school. Her students are intellectually impaired in addition to having autism. They are with her six out of the eight blocks during the day.
“Explicit social skills are taught in a group of four gentlemen,” she said. “We have a great time.”
These grade 10 students are not all on a diploma track. “We have to look at activities of daily living,” she said.
The students go to Hannaford’s to learn to shop for a meal. They help prepare meals for homebound senior citizens each Monday and have started to help in the school store.
Later in the year, the students will begin to make some podcasts soon, so that they can work on public speaking, she said.
The district of 3,382 students has 637 students with independent education plans, said Linda Rakiey, director of special education. An IEP addresses the needs of a student with a disability.
An increasing number of students are identified as being on the autism spectrum.
“Our goal is independence, as much as possible,” Rakiey said. “It’s really exciting when you get into those classrooms and see the good work that’s happening.”