A recent audit of the Milford School District autism programs indicates that the district is doing well in educating students who are on the spectrum. The audit, conducted by ABC Consulting using the Autism Program Environmental Rating Scale (APERS), provides the district with information on where their programs may need improvement. In addition, ABC Consulting provides additional training for teachers to help them achieve APERS goals.
“The APERS looks at 11 domains which include learning environments, safety organization, material structure, schedules and student transitions,” Dr. Laura Manges, Director of Student Services, said. “We are really moving in the area of exemplary programming with expectations set for us this year of 3.8 or higher. Milford exceeds that level in almost every competency.”
School board member David Vezmar asked if ABC Consulting received payment from the district and Manges explained that the district did have a contract with them. Vezmar then wanted to know if the contract with the consultants improved if the district numbers improved. Manges stated that the better the district does in the audit, the less support they need from ABC Consulting as far as training and coaching. When asked how Milford compared to other districts, Manges explained that it was difficult to make that determination.
“We don’t have a pre-K through 12 program yet, so we’re only coming into year five, we have not had a student coming through Milford from pre-K to the age of 22 with the support of an autism program, so it would be unfair for me to assess that,” Manges said. “Each IEP is developed individually. The program has to be continuously flexible all across the state, even the nation, in order to meet student needs. As we heard tonight, we had a large abundance of atypical aggressions and behavioral concerns as we returned our students from COVID because a lot of times it is difficult for parents to keep the same structure and supports that we offer through programming. So, I can’t really compare apples to oranges, but the fact that we have families committed to placing their students with us indicates we are doing the right things. We had one family in our community who worked with statewide autism programs and speaks to coaches as well as families so that we now have people asking if they can choice their child into Milford for our programs.”
One area where almost every school with an autism program ranked lower than 3.8 was in social competence. Dr. Adam Brownstein questioned the low rating in that area as he has an autistic son who is now in college.
“One thing that was hard for me was the social competence scores were pretty low across the board,” Brownstein said. “I understand that COVID played a role but as someone who has a sone with high functioning autism, the barrier to employment for him will be social competence, not any of the other stuff. I guess for me it always depends on what the end goal is for the individual. If the end goal is to have a job, be a productive member of society, have that self-worth that unfolds, social competence is a really big deal because that is a deal breaker from an employer standpoint. I am just hoping that post-COVID we can improve that to get more of these kids in a position where they can be productive members of society.”
Vezmar agreed, asking what the district planned to do to increase scores where the ratings were below 3.8. School board president Jason Miller pointed out that the lowest social competence score seemed to be at Morris and that the students moved into higher grades, that seemed to improve. He stated that the Ross social competence score exceeded 3.8. At Milford Central Academy where a new program for autism began this school year, social competence was at 3.8, Vezmar pointed out, but personal independence dropped to 2.0 which could also indicate a problem with socialization for children with autism.
“We can teach skills in a classroom really well, we know how to do that,” Philip Concurs of ABC Consulting said. “The big challenge is how well does that generalize into the real world? WE know from the literature that kids can tell us the steps of any social scenario we give them, but when they get into the job interview, they are in church or in a supermarket, stuff breaks down because it’s not the same environment as the classroom in the same conditions. So, what you need with social skills training is a really good instructional paradigm, curriculum and right dosage. It’s much more difficult to practice social interactions if language skills have not been developed.”
Vezmar asked if the board could receive a report in the fall that would explain how children in the autism program were starting to interact more and how the program was doing at developing those skills.