Missouri Advocates For Families Affected by Autism

We are a citizens action group advocating and lobbying for families that have a child with special needs. We believe that EVERY child has a right to a FREE and APPROPRIATE EDUCATION and should NEVER BE LEFT BEHIND.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: Local School Boards Should be Abolished | Missouri Education Watchdog

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: Local School Boards Should be Abolished | Missouri Education Watchdog



I’m all for local educational control.  Authentic local control.  We do not have authentic school board control in Missouri and I wager than many school districts in other states don’t have local control either.  School districts must adhere to federal and state mandates and autonomy is eradicated and discouraged for local school boards.  An entity to watch and research in Missouri and your state is your state school board association, a private association which uses tax dollars for its existence.  You might find (as we are discovering in Missouri) that these associations do not protect taxpayers, but rather, they assume control that is not granted to them but is wielded over school board members.
Missouri school board members must undergo training to understand what their duties are and most boards look to the Missouri State Board Association (MSBA) for this information.  Increasingly it seems as if MSBA is writing policy for school boards instead of being an advisory organization.  Research your state school board association and determine its function for your school districts.  It has become more of a regulatory association instead of training school board members to be effective voices for the citizenry which elected them.  Tax dollars are spent for this training with this private organization.  From a previous post:
You can see how much your district pays to belong to MSBA here.  The amount is based on the budget of your school district.  My district (Kirkwood) pays approximately $10,000 for MSBA’s direction and policy decisions.  Why do we need a school board anymore?  Maybe the education reformers are right.  Just turn it over to private organizations directing how tax money is to be used.  School board members increasingly are figureheads for private organizations funded by local taxpayers who think they are actually voting for members who set/direct policy for their districts.

The education reformers are increasingly calling for the demise of the local school boards.  Local school boards don’t really do much other than hire/fire teachers and maintain physical property.  If school board policy is being written by MSBA and the board members are following along adopting all the policies MSBA writes, then why do school boards exist?
The following article from American Spring shows the power MSBA has over school board candidates and school board policy in Camdenton, MO.  From Camdenton, Missouri School Board Elections About Local Control:
Recently, the Lake Sun asked candidates for Camdenton school board their qualifications and asked a couple of questions. The responses to the first of those questions are noteworthy, as it deals with a fundamental change to the way the public is ‘allowed’ to interact with board members.
From the Lake Sun:
Do you think the current school board policy regarding public participation allows for sufficient opportunity for the public’s voice to be heard? Do you support the current policy or if elected would you seek to make changes to the policy?
This policy represents a fundamental shift of the tax paying public’s ‘role’ in school affairs. It plainly seeks to use a questionable interpretation of law to stifle public input to the board, requiring an approval process that filters communications meant for the board through both school administration and school attorneys. This, to many parents, represents another step in a silent coup, preformed under the assumption of authority neither the administration, nor the school attorneys, have. A concerted effort has been made to reinforce the false logic that our representatives should somehow be ‘protected’ from hearing from the public and parents they serve.
Part of the new public comment policy, as recommended during an August visit from an MSBA lawyer, appears below. Camdenton adopted a policy that restricts the public from having open discussions with the board about their concerns, if those requests aren’t ‘approved’ by administration and attorneys.
7. Only items from the posted agenda may be discussed. If an individual seeks to address an issue that is scheduled to be discussed by the Board in closed session, the Board may require the person to hold his or her comments until closed session.
8. The Board may vote to suspend or amend these rules in extraordinary circumstances. The Board may impose additional rules as it deems necessary and reserves the right to alter the above rules depending on the circumstances. The Board reserves the right to cancel, reschedule or delay the public comment period at any time or delay comment on a particular topic. The Board may refuse to hear comments on a particular topic if advised to do so by legal counsel.
Paul Ellison writes how four of the five candidates support the MSBA’s policies of shutting down dialogue from the community:
On January 14, 2014, in an article in the Lake Sun announcing the email policy, Assistant Superintendent Roma France announced the implementation of Camdenton’s email accounts for board members.
France made the following statement:
“Protocol would be for the Board president and/or superintendent to respond to the patron on behalf of the district.” She went on to say, “If several questions come in on the same topic, then the item may be placed on the next board agenda.”
The Lake Sun described the email procedures, as laid out for them by France:
” Then, she told the board that emails would go to a mail distribution group, board@camdentonschools.org, which would be sent to each board member along with the superintendent or a designee. “
And that: ” In most cases, the superintendent or administration will be the one to respond. “
The guidelines adopted for the district’s email policy contain restrictions that mirror, in practical application, those inserted into the inappropriately named ‘public comment policy’. The guidelines offered the Lake Sun by Camdenton’s administration, read as follows:
1. If you are providing Board members an e-mail address, all Board members by policy must sign the Authorized User Permit that staff and students must sign and Board member must agree to the same terms as staff and students.
This first policy restriction would allow, presumably, for the unfettered monitoring of emails between themselves and their constituents. It creates an environment worthy of the NSA in the Camdenton school district. It would allow complete access to all board member’s accounts, without cause, without warrant. Camdenton’s version of Big Brother, it can reasonably be assumed, is manned by school administration and the districts lawyers, the firm of Mickes, Goldman and O’Toole.
Also from the Camdenton administration’s ‘guidelines’:
4. When information is sent via the generic Board@camdentonschools.org, the protocol is for the superintendent or Board president to respond on behalf of the district and to cc the Board the response so that the Board knows the patron has been corresponded with and what was said. If a Board member disagrees with the response or has questions, he or she is encouraged to immediately notify the superintendent and the Board president of that fact.
The last sentence in this ‘guideline’ is one that gives us pause, particularly when we consider the access and latitude granted the administration and its lawyers in regard to the distribution of emails in the first place. This assumption of authority, of determining which emails reach the board, is reemphasized throughout these ‘rules’ created by administration and their attorneys.
Number five of these ‘guidelines’ ensures that, even a board member can be denied the ability to add a topic or concern to the agenda.

5. Any Board member may ask that a subject is added to the Board’s agenda at the next meeting for discussion. The Board as a whole will ultimately vote when approving the agenda to determine if the issue will be discussed.
The last sentence of ‘rule’ #5 is particularly offending:
However, Board members are free to direct questions or concerns to the superintendent or Board president.
Number six in the list of guidelines:
6. A Board member who is not the Board president may correspond individually with a patron, but is required to indicate that the opinions expressed are his or her own and not the Board’s. A Board member is prohibited from using a district-provided e-mail address contrary to district policy or law or to violate district policy or law.
The key words and phrases in ‘rule’ number six are distressing. “Board member”, “prohibited”, “contrary to district policy” and “violate district policy”. These are words that place control of our school, not in the hands of our elected representatives, but into those of administration and attorneys. Many of these policies were crafted, approved and suggested by the attorneys for our school district and district administration. They are not rules of law, nor are should they be.
Rules nine and ten completes the usurping of power from the citizens in the Camdenton school district. They clearly illustrate the ongoing efforts to eliminate ‘local control’ over our school districts.
9. The superintendent or Board president in their discretion may not respond to messages from the same sender that are repetitive, or messages that are threatening or that use profane language.
10. The superintendent or Board president will not directly respond to messages involving litigation, potential or pending litigation, or a situation on appeal pursuant to district policies or the law.
In addition, the superintendent or Board president may not respond to messages if advised by the district’s attorney not to do so. However, the superintendent or Board president will acknowledge receipt of the message and notify the sender of the rules.
These policies, designed to remove, control and suffocate the input of parents and tax payers, are the opposite of Barbour’s claims.
“Yes, I believe the recently-updated school board policy facilitates engaged communications with our students, parents and patrons. We truly want to hear from our public. It’s their school. We recently enhanced this school board policy with an email address so our patrons can access all board members at exactly the same time from our school district’s web site.
Yes, I support this policy. We will be monitoring its progress. We also will continue to be cognizant of new technology as it emerges to communicate with the public exemplifying transparency and participation.”
She also invited the public to “peruse” the school web site. Perhaps Ms. Barbour should have perused a dictionary for both the correct definition of transparency. To her credit however, Ms. Barbour didn’t dive under her desk like partner-in-crime, Jackie Schulte. Ms. Schulte used the question regarding the public comment policy shift to beat the drums of fear mongering. This fear mongering is based on the flawed legal interpretation that, somehow, the school board could be held liable for what a citizen says to them. This laughable notion is parroted by Schulte.
“Board members are responsible for protecting our staff and students; allowing anyone to speak on impulse could open the district to possible legal repercussions.”
Read about how the Board members are apparently working for the superintendent, not the other way around.  The Board is supposed to represent the taxpayers who voted them in, not acquiesce to the superintendent….who the Board hires!  Since when does a board take orders from an employee of the District?
Read about conflict of interests between board members and companies performing services for the district.  Read about the law firm that represents and advises Camdenton School Board and decide if you think board policies are supporting the taxpayers or special interests.  Read how this board is adopting policy written by the law firm that may very well be illegal.  Read more here.
Call your school district and find out which law firm is representing your district.  Determine if your board policies are copyrighted and directed by MSBA.  If most of your policies have been written by MSBA and suggested by your legal representative to be adopted, ask your board members if they are aware of the implications of denying citizens freedom of speech.
Policies written by private organizations supported from tax dollars are developing/directing educational policy for local school boards.  Sounds like the NGA/CCSSO writing Common Core standards, doesn’t it?  We might as well abolish our school boards and state educational agencies and just shovel the taxpayer dollars to private organizations and forget this charade of local control because it doesn’t exist.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Feds To School: Retaliation In IEP Process Not OK - Disability Scoop

Feds To School: Retaliation In IEP Process Not OK - Disability Scoop



The San Carlos School District in San Carlos, Calif. retaliated against the parents of a child with special needs by making allegations that resulted in a sheriff’s deputy visiting their house, a letter sent to the family by the U.S. Department of Education concludes.
The March 6 letter was sent in response to a complaint the parents submitted last year after a district official contacted the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in October 2012 and claimed the child’s father secretly taped a meeting with district educators. The name of the family was blacked out from a copy of the letter obtained by The Daily News.
Although the parents weren’t charged with any crimes, the allegation of criminal behavior, the deputy’s visit and the veiled possibility of arrest and prosecution “are all sufficiently adverse since one or all of them would be reasonably likely to deter a parent from advocating on behalf of their child,” the federal agency’s letter states.
According to facts outlined in the letter following an investigation by the agency’s Office for Civil Rights, the student was in the second grade during the 2012-2013 school year and received special education services because of a health impairment and a speech or language impairment. The parents were “proactive” in seeking special services for their child, sometimes “questioning determinations made by the district.”
On Sept. 27, 2012, after an individualized education program meeting between the district and family to discuss the student’s needs, a teacher informed the school principal — who had not attended — that she believed the student’s father had recorded the meeting. The father wanted to record a meeting before that one and was told the district did not allow recordings without 24 hours notice. He had recorded an earlier meeting but was not told then about the district’s policy.
The principal informed the district’s director of student services about the suspected recording, according to the federal agency’s letter. On Oct. 3, the student displayed “significant behavioral issues” at school and the parents sent an email to the principal seeking a consultation with the school psychologist. Later that same day, the director of student services, who is not named, made a report to the Sheriff’s Office, according to the letter.
On Oct. 13, a deputy went to the family’s home, was told that no one recorded the meeting and closed the investigation, stating in a report that there was “no proof a crime was committed.”
The timing of the district’s actions, relative to the parents’ advocacy, “warrants an inference that the adverse action was caused by the protected activity,” the federal agency’s letter states.
During the Office for Civil Rights probe, the director of student services told investigators that she spoke to the district’s lawyer, schools Superintendent Craig Baker and the school board about her intention to call the Sheriff’s Office to report the alleged illegal recording. But “she never met or spoke with the complainants about the allegation or attempted to obtain their version of events,” the letter states.
Calling law enforcement “undoubtedly has a deterrent and chilling effect on parents and their willingness to actively participate in their own children’s education and advocate on their behalf,” the letter adds. For that reason, a call should be made only when the harm is sufficient enough to warrant such involvement.
The student services director told investigators that the school district’s attorney advised her state law says it’s illegal to record conversations without the prior knowledge and consent of everyone. But state law does not apply to IEP meetings, the federal agency’s letter notes.
To resolve the matter, the district signed off on an agreement that, among other things, requires it to distribute a memo to staff warning against illegal retaliation against families of students in special education and offering to provide training. The agreement, signed by Baker, states that the district does not admit any violation of the law.
In a written statement to The Daily News, school board President Adam Rak said the district is “committed to fair, non-retaliatory treatment of all students and families and it respectfully disagrees with the characterization of facts and conclusions” in the Office for Civil Rights report.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spanking may soon be banned in Missouri schools | KMOV.com St. Louis

Spanking may soon be banned in Missouri schools | KMOV.com St. Louis



by KMOV.com staff
KMOV.com
Posted on April 17, 2014 at 6:11 AM
Updated today at 7:57 AM

(KMOV) – Missouri is one of 19 states allowing corporal punishment in schools, though that practice may soon be banned, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The Missouri Senate Committee on Progress and Development unanimously passed a bill Wednesday to ban corporal punishment in all public and private schools.
As it stands, Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) requires each district’s written discipline policy to include rules on corporal punishment.
The Post-Dispatch reports should it be used, the local school board must determine how it will be used and whether a parent will be notified or allowed to choose a different form of discipline.
DESE doesn’t keep track of which Missouri districts use corporal punishment, but in 2009 the Missouri School Boards’ Association estimated at least 70 of the more than 500 state districts had policies allowing the practice.
The Fox School District was one of the last in the St. Louis area to get rid of corporal punishment in the early 2000s.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why I’m not feeling blue on Autism Day | Irish Examiner

Why I’m not feeling blue on Autism Day | Irish Examiner



The message being used by one organisation is instilling fear and hatred about the condition, says Fiona O’Leary, who has Asperger’s.
TODAY is World Autism Awareness Day, and the sound of alarm bells ringing is eerily unsettling to me, and to many other people who are on the autism spectrum.
I did not use the term ‘disorder’, as I do not feel disordered and I object to this negative language. But who will speak for me, and for the autistic community?
We have a voice, we are connecting and supporting each other, yet we are not being heard above the mainstream portrayal of autism as a ‘devastating disorder’. We are being left out of most discussions regarding our future, because the stereotype of us is so debilitating.
Nineteen years ago, my son was diagnosed with autism.
It was not easy then, but as challenging as it was, I feel the parents whose child is diagnosed today receive a barrage of negative information from powerful ‘awareness’ groups.
One such organisation is Autism Speaks, which is the driving force behind the ‘Light It Up Blue’ campaign that has been adopted by many of the prominent Irish autism charities and awareness groups.
I, for one, and many other individuals on the spectrum, along with the majority of self-advocacy groups, will not be lighting anything blue, and for indisputably good reasons.
Firstly, Autism Speaks’s senior leadership does not include a single autistic person, and excludes autistic adults from its board of directors, leadership team, and other positions of seniority.
In November, 2013, John Elder Robison, the only Autism Speaks advisory board member who is on the autistic spectrum, resigned his post.
Elder Robison was protesting the organisation’s portrayal of ‘the problem’, which described the families of autistic children as not living, but merely existing.
Elder Robison stated in his resignation letter that after four years of attempting to reform the organisation from the inside, he had been unsuccessful, and he could no longer be a part of the “only major medical or mental health, nonprofit organisation whose legitimacy is constantly challenged by a large percentage of the people affected by the condition they target”.
In one of Autism Speaks’s most prominent fundraising and awareness videos, one of its executives says how she had considered driving off the Washington Bridge with her autistic child.
She didn’t, because she had a ‘normal child’ also. Her words were spoken while her autistic child was playing, within earshot, in the background. Another video, the now infamous ‘I Am Autism’ ad campaign, tells the listener that ‘autism’ knows where you live, that it is an epidemic worse than cancer, AIDS, and diabetes combined, that it will destroy your marriage and make you bankrupt, that you will never go to a church, a park, a birthday party again, without a struggle, without embarrassment. Is it any wonder that lady felt like driving off a bridge: how long can one breathe in this demonisation and horror?

There is much more to highlight about this organisation, but if the reasons here are not alarming, then we need to wake up from the utopia of ignorance in which we doze.
Because Autism Speaks does not speak for me and I have Asperger’s.
It does not speak for my two wonderful and gifted boys, my reasons to live, who are on the autistic spectrum.
Yet Autism Speaks is ‘sounding the alarm’ with their latest awareness campaign, around the world and, most worryingly, right here in Ireland.
I participated on the panel of the final public consultation meeting of the IARB (Irish Autism/Neurodevelopmental Registry and Biobank) held at University College Cork last month.
The proposed Registry and Biobank is a partnership between Trinity College Dublin, NUI Galway and Autism Speaks. When I saw Autism Speaks’s logo — of a blue jigsaw piece — occupying equal space on the literature and advertising of a proposed biobank, I was more than a little unhappy. I was stunned at the logic of including an organisation that is controversial within the autistic community in a venture that needs that community’s cooperation if it is to be successful.
I expressed my concerns and I was invited to participate.
Myself and a small group of advocates went to object to the involvement of Autism Speaks, making the logical point that by including Autism Speaks they would be excluding a huge number of autistic people and their families, who rightly boycott that organisation.
Our premise, ‘nothing about us without us, is a good place to start.
Any research that will bring positive benefits to people on the autistic spectrum is welcome. However, the propaganda used by Autism Speaks is instilling fear and hatred about a condition that is struggling to find acceptance in society.
This is one of Autism Speaks’s most controversial videos, which depicts autism as a ‘monster’ coming to get your child.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: Inappropriate "Services"

Lee's Summit R-7 School District: Inappropriate "Services"



I have contacted many people, in the Lee's Summit school district, and none of their children are receiving appropriate social skills training for autism.



Social skill is not a “service” but a functional skill necessary for daily living activities. Learn what the IDEA, the federal regulations, and the Commentary say about Present Levels of Functional Performance and IEP goals for functional skills.
Read Pat Howey’s article What You Need to Know About IDEA: Present Levels of Functional Performance and Functional Goals in IEPs.http://www.wrightslaw.com/howey/iep.functional.perf.htm
Your child’s IEP must include a description of her Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. This means what her strengths and weaknesses are – both in academics and in functional areas like social skills.
If your child has “functional needs” the school must meet these and address these needs with goals in the IEP.
Questions to Ask
Remember, you are part of the IEP team. You have input about your child’s needs and what services may be needed to meet these needs.
Does your daughter have challenges in the social skills area?
Is her weakness in social skills accurately described in the Present Levels?
Does her IEP include goals about how the school will meet these challenges?
Do the goals meet her needs?
Is she making measurable progress toward these goals?
You need to request a meeting of the IEP team to discuss your concerns and to review and revise the IEP.

Reorganized School District No.7
301 NE Tudor Road
Lee's Summit, Missouri 64086-5702
Phone: (816) 986-1024 Fax: (816) 986-1160
Jerry L. Keimig
Executive Director of Special Services

December 22, 2008

Ms. Heidi Atkins Lieberman
Assistant Commissioner
Division of Special Education
Missouri Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education
PO Box 480
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102-0480

Dear Ms. Lieberman:

This letter is in response to concerns expressed by OSEP regarding Ms. Tucker. Ms. Tucker has responded to staff in our District with a continual barrage of emails and web postings on a variety of topics expressing concerns, sending general information regarding special education issues, and conducting personal attacks on staff.  (It was my intention to offer information on the appropriate services for a child with autism.  Many of my emails were ignored unless I sent several requesting responses.)

Ms. Tucker continually voices her concerns regarding educational programming for her son. We would agree that he has specific areas that need to be addressed, but despite multiple District attempts to provide direct interventions for her son, she has refused many of these services. We have even developed additional course offerings in response to her concerns, but once in place, she has refused to allow her son to access programming. It appears that Ms. Tucker is more interested in a personal attack on the individuals responsible for providing educational services rather than accessing existing services designed to provide educational benefit for her child.  (This is totally inaccurate.  I sent a “continual barrage of emails” with research on why these programs were not appropriate.  I have been personally attacked by the district and this letter is a perfect example.  They did not develop an additional course for my son.  They wanted to put him in a class with children that had were emotionally disturbed and then grade him on his social progress.  How can they begin to believe that could be appropriate?)

It is the Lee's Summit R-7s School District stance that we have been extremely responsive to the concerns of Ms. Tucker having devoted hundreds of hours to discussion of said concerns and viable solutions. We would welcome an opportunity to present the district view to an independent panel either through a DESE child complaint or a due process hearing.  (They want me to go to due process because they think that they can weaken my resolve.)

C: Dr. David McGehee




Social Skills Groups: What Does the Research Tell Us?
Autism Spectrum News
The Promise of Research
Fall 2008, Vol.1, No. 1
Lynda Geller, Ph.D.
Asperger Institute
NYU Child Study Center


Social skills deficits are considered to be one of the critical diagnostic impairments that define autism and Asperger Syndrome, so it perhaps not surprising that both school personnel and clinicians in the community frequently recommend that a child or adolescent on the autism spectrum should be enrolled in social skills groups. The intention of such groups is to improve the development of these skills that often are so compromised. Yet just how much research evidence exists supporting the effectiveness of social kills groups as they are currently being delivered? The goals of this review are to summarize what the research tells us regarding efficacy of group social skills development models and to suggest to families what they should require from those delivering this kind of service.

Social skills are critical to successful adult outcome, from having rewarding personal relationships to academic and vocational accomplishment to overall mental health and quality of life. When considering these issues for the individual with an autism spectrum disorder we must be cognizant of the developmental nature of these conditions. Individuals on the autism spectrum have underlying brain differences that affect how they experience the world. In turn, experiences in life have direct consequences on ongoing brain development. So the outcome of any child’s development is the sum total of underlying assets and deficits and the life experiences that continuously shape all of us and directly impact brain development. That is why early intervention is such a powerful tool. It actually shapes brain development during critical periods and individual outcome can be profoundly affected by having or not having these kinds of experiences.

Those of us who work intensively with children with autism continually witness how autism unfolds and how the lack of certain experiences contributes to the ultimate outcome of each one of them. For example, it is not uncommon for parents to tell us that their child has never had a friend. While this is painful in and of itself, the developmental ramifications are significant. Peer interactions are necessary to develop the skills for maintaining conversation, taking perspective, playing appropriately, controlling emotional expression, negotiating conflict, and experiencing intimacy. Without these experiences in childhood, establishing a positive adulthood is very difficult. So, the child with the developmental differences of autism suffers the additional burden of limited experience in critical areas, resulting in what we so often see in young adults as inability to establish relationships or maintain a job and personal independence.

Therefore it is no wonder that so many clinicians and educational professionals try to provide development in the area of social skills. We all know it is critical for successful adulthood. But is what is being typically provided in schools and clinics effective in improving essential social skills?

Very recently, four significant reviews of social skills interventions have been published (White et al., 2007; Rao et al., 2008; Matson et al., 2007; Bellini et al., 2007.) They provide guidelines for assessing social skills groups as they have been implemented and give us important standards for assessing whether critical qualities exist in what is being currently offered.

White, Keonig & Scahill describe their concern with social skills development as being based on findings that social skills deficits do not remit but become more devastating with age as the social milieu becomes more complex; that children in inclusive settings are often more rejected and isolated, yet are not given the skills to succeed; and that social skills deficits contribute to academic and occupational underachievement and later mood and anxiety problems. Given these outcomes, high quality social skills interventions are crucial. Fourteen studies were identified that addressed group intervention for children and adolescents identified as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD.) All studies had very small sample sizes (ten or less.) Only two studies utilized a manualized approach specifically developed for individuals with an ASD while others used techniques developed for other populations. Others simply described their approaches in greater or lesser detail. Only five studies included a comparison group and none used randomized assignment to treatment group.

None of the studies could be considered an effectiveness study, that is, one that examines the generalizability of gains to other settings. White et al. concluded that the state of research about social skills groups is still in its infancy.  However, they identified some promising strategies, based on what was demonstrated in the studies that should be considered in future program development. These include stimulating social motivation, rewarding social initiation, reinforcing appropriate social responding, treating interfering behaviors, and providing opportunities for skill generalization. Their strongest recommendation was that we need to develop and validate manualized social skills curricula to be utilized in schools and community-based groups.

Rao, Beidel & Murray reviewed papers evaluating social skills training programs for youth with Asperger Syndrome or high functioning autism to assess their efficacy and make recommendations for future research directions. They examined ten studies of high functioning children on the autism spectrum as such students are more likely to be in inclusion settings where the social demands are more intense. They found that current research is lacking in the following areas: establishing a common definition of what comprises social skills; conducting research that includes having control groups to compare outcomes and having blind observers to evaluate results; generalizing techniques to other settings; and conducting long term follow-up to determine if an intervention had any effects on eventual outcome. They recommended that future studies utilize manualized treatments specific to particular social deficits (e.g. simple interaction versus relationship development,) that more rigorous research designs be employed to assess effectiveness, and that generalization beyond the office be specifically implemented and measured. As in the previous review, these authors noted that the feasibility of improving social development through group instruction has been demonstrated, but the specific methods need further research.

Matson, Matson & Rivet examined a wide range of social skills interventions for children with ASDs of all functioning levels. In their review of seventy-nine treatment studies, they generated specific recommendations of what is required for the field to move forward toward more validated and specific social skills treatments.

They suggest:

• Parent training models to improve generalization and to make intervention available for younger children,
• Programs that address interfering behaviors or comorbid disorders (such as severe anxiety,)
• Interventions for children under six years of age whose brains have greater plasticity and who should be developing skills they can practice throughout elementary school,
• Need-specific programs that can differentiate between those who need very basic versus more advanced skill development,
• Consistent use of measurements in existing school and community social skills programs to assess if participants are meeting their specified goals.

Bellini, Peters, Benner & Hope reviewed social skills interventions being delivered in school settings. As social skills development is almost universally stated as a goal for special education students with ASDs, this is a particularly critical area to examine. A meta-analysis of fifty-five single-subject design studies was conducted to formulate some generalizations about treatment effectiveness of programs as they are currently being delivered in schools and to specify what approaches seem to offer the best potential. Bellini et al. reiterate that there is only minimal evidence that social skills training programs are effective for children in general, let alone for those for whom social deficit is the defining attribute.

The most important conclusions of this review were that social skills interventions in schools, as they are being reported in the literature, have low to questionable treatment and generalization effects and moderate maintenance effects. That implies that most treatments were not particularly effective in changing social behavior or affecting any changes that generalize across settings, but that any changes that occurred were somewhat maintained. The studies were then assessed by approach with the general findings that interventions need to be more intensively implemented, that they should occur in context rather than in an office, that the strategy should match the specific skill deficit, and that validated treatments should be implemented by clinicians trained in the specific intervention to insure effectiveness. The findings of this analysis were discouraging and implied that much of what is now being done for students with ASDs in schools may be rather ineffective.

Given the limited research evidence for the effectiveness of group social skills interventions, what are responsible recommendations? For community-based interventions, parents should ask the following questions:

• Is there a manualized, evidence-based curriculum or a well-designed, explicit program with specific goals?
• Do the proposed group members have similar needs that are being addressed specifically?
• Do the target behaviors being addressed make sense for each member?
• Is generalization to real-life settings being designed as an integral part of the program?

As children with ASDs typically lack good generalization skills, it is necessary to provide more specific opportunities for practice in realistic settings. This can be implemented through parent involvement with each session’s lesson, rehearsal and reinforcement homework for members, and prescribed member interaction between sessions. Interventions can also take place in actual life locations. Of importance, as well, is the therapist’s orientation to achieving measurable goals.

Does the group leader

• Assess each member’s needs before inclusion in the group?
• Have plans for assessing effectiveness?
• Consider the family’s specific desires for skill acquisition?
• Assess satisfaction with the service at the conclusion?
In-school services also need to be examined. Families should request that
• Services be very specifically described on the student’s individualized educational plan
• Those delivering the services have knowledge about both social skill development and the specifics of delivering such services to children on the autism spectrum
• Services be of sufficient intensity to be effective
• School personnel are utilizing evidence-base practice
• Interventions are being delivered in authentic locations such as playgrounds, classrooms, and lunchrooms, rather than only professional offices.
Sometimes parents do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable or empowered to request the services their child truly needs to promote the best outcome. It is important for parents to be wise consumers by
• Requesting specific plans and generalization strategies
• Learning how to reinforce social skills through play dates and get togethers
• Helping their child maximize strengths and interests in social settings
• Negotiating with school treatment teams to implement a true social skills program that is individually designed and data-driven.

Meanwhile, professionals who specialize in autism and Asperger Syndrome can help families gain awareness of the current state of knowledge; understand what they as parents can specifically accomplish with their children; and know what critical questions to ask of anyone currently providing social skills intervention in schools or community. Together, parents and professionals should continue to advocate for more treatment-based research on social skills development now.

References
Bellini, S., Peters, J.K., Benner, L., & Hopf, A. (2007) A meta-analysis of school based social skills interventions for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Remedial and Special Education, 28(3), 153-162.
Matson, J.L., Matson, M.L., & Rivet, T.T. (2007) Social-skills treatments for children with autism spectrum disorders. Behavior Modification, 31(5), 682-707.
Rao, P.A., Beidel, D.C., & Murray, M.J. (2008) Social skills interventions for children with Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism: A review and recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(2), 353-361.
White, S.W., Keonig, K., & Scahill, L. (2007) Social skills development in children with autism spectrum disorders: A review of the intervention literature.
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37(10), 1858-1868.