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Statewide initiative launched in Nebraska to improve ASD outcomes

March 23, 2011
by News release
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Omaha, Neb. — Autism Action Partnership (AAP), a public nonprofit foundation, announced a statewide initiative to improve outcomes for students with autism in Nebraska public schools.
Through an innovative partnership with the Department of Education's Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Network, AAP is providing support to Nebraska public schools using a scalable technology solution developed by Rethink Autism. "The number of children with autism ages 3-21 in Nebraska jumped about 339 percent from 2000 to 2009 [according to a report from Easter Seals]. This dramatic increase has presented significant challenges for our public school system. Autism Action Partnership learned of the critical work being done by the ASD Network to provide high-quality training and support throughout the state," said Gail Durkin, Executive Director of Autism Action Partnership and architect of the plan.

"Together we explored technology as an option to complement the Network's existing efforts and broaden their reach," Durkin added. "Rethink Autism offered an ideal solution, and the success of our initial pilot has compelled us to do more." Developed by leading clinicians and researchers from around the country, Rethink Autism offers a web-based platform for training, individualized programming, and student data tracking.

The system includes a comprehensive curriculum with over 1,200 video demonstrations, which show parents and teachers how to implement research-based teaching strategies utilizing the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). ABA is widely recognized as the treatment for autism with the most research supporting its efficacy. Parents, teachers, and district leaders - including those who participated in the pilot - are encouraged to visit the Autism Action Partnership website to download a copy of the Rethink Autism Application for the 2011-12 school year. (See "News from Autism Action Partnership" on
the homepage)

Districts will be notified in late spring, and invited to participate in an initial orientation over the summer. Additional technical assistance sessions will be offered throughout the school year as part of the initiative. More information and copies of the application will also be available at the ASD Network's 8th Annual Conference, which is being held April 7-8 at the Embassy Suites in La Vista. Representatives from Autism Action Partnership and Rethink Autism will be available at the ASD Network's annual conference to answer any questions.

The idea behind AAP's statewide initiative was tested in a pilot program this past year that far exceeded expectations. The pilot program was conducted in over 25 districts that participated in the ASD Network's S.T.E.P.S. ASD program (a year-long intensive training program that involves both teachers and district leaders).

In addition to receiving professional development and coaching from the Network's regional coordinators, participants were trained to implement the Rethink Autism program with specific students. The goal was to equip districts with a tool-kit that would allow them to apply what they were learning back in the classrooms, thus creating a more sustainable model for autism support. "The pilot program with Autism Action Partnership and Rethink Autism has been very successful. Rethink Autism is an innovative program that has helped us put the essential components of an evidence-based program for individuals with autism at the fingertips of educators across the state.

The Rethink Autism program reinforces the teaching components we cover during our trainings. It's been tremendously beneficial to provide this resource to educators who are committed to providing quality educational services to individuals with autism spectrum disorders," said Annette Wragge, the State Coordinator for the NE ASD Network. Teachers reported high levels of satisfaction with the user-friendliness of Rethink Autism's technology platform, and district leaders were pleased with the focus on data and research-based strategies. Results across participants verified that most teachers consistently used the program and, more importantly, students met their Individual Education Plan (IEP) goals.

Jamie Lewis, an Educational Consultant in ESU #10, sums it up best: "It is often difficult to work in rural areas given the limited access to specialists ... Rethink Autism is starting to level the playing field!"