Delaware Valley School District offers a continuum of services for students with disabilities to meet all needs.
In addition, DV has two special programs, available at the primary, elementary, middle and high school level, to help students on the autism spectrum. According to Delaware Valley Supervisor of Elementary Special Education Cheryl Nielsen, “Both programs are based on the principles of applied behavior analysis: understanding behavior — how behavior is changed or affected by the environment and how learning takes place. Behavior refers to skills and actions needed to talk, to play, to live and to interact.”
The Supplemental Autistic Support Program offers verbal and behavior support for grades kindergarten to 12. The district partners with Step by Step, an outside agency. Staff from the agency work in the classroom to help support the student and the school with behavioral intervention and language facilitation.
The basis of that program is language acquisition. If appropriate, a student is given assistive technology to communicate and may use iPhones, iPads or an iPad mini, with communication apps, some with picture icons, loaded on them. “The iPads can speak for them. It’s a team effort by our speech/language therapists, our teachers and Step by Step,” said Nielsen.
“There’s always an emotional or behavior component, because when kids have difficulty communicating, how do they communicate? Through behavior,” Nielsen said. “That’s why it’s called a verbal behavior program.”
They use positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior. For example, in younger grades, they get a favorite snack. There are also strategies used after a student acts out. If necessary, the team meets to review the behavior plan. The emphasis is on positive reinforcement.
Delaware Valley has two behavioral health technicians who work with students overseen by a behavior specialist who ensure treatment plans are followed or modified when needed. The whole program is overseen by a board-certified behavior analyst, who works closely with school staff.
Another program Delaware Valley is known for is its Itinerant Autism Support program. “It’s for students who struggle more with social skills, who need support for social skills acquisition and coping skills,” said Nielsen. “We look at each student individually and see what is needed to meet their needs.”