A 21st-century approach to teaching autistic students

In the United States, a child is diagnosed with autism every 21 minutes–a rate that is growing faster than that of any other developmental disorder, according to Virtual Expert Clinics Inc. In response to this trend, Virtual Expert Clinics has developed a 21st-century response to educating students with autism, called AutismPro.

A customizable package of tools, content, and programming, AutismPro is designed to help educators and administrators improve the learning experiences for students with autism through the effective use of technology. It was developed and reviewed with the help of a professional advisory board that included Dr. Kathleen Quill of the Autism Institute, Dr. Cathy Pratt of the Autism Society of America, and Dr. Brenda Smith Myles.

There are two products in the AutismPro line: AutismPro Workshops and AutismPro Resources.

AutismPro Workshops is a flexible, web-based professional development program that allows educators to apply a range of evidence-based strategies to typical school situations. Designed for general education teachers, AutismPro Workshops provides videos and illustrated examples of instructional techniques that can be applied across the spectrum of autism and autism-related disabilities. AutismPro Workshops features up to 45 hours of online content, including the most commonly used concepts and strategies in the field of autism intervention.

Designed to complement an existing special-education program and IEP framework, AutismPro Resources is a comprehensive set of online classroom tools. It allows special-education teachers, support staff, and administrators to search a database of more than 5,000 lesson plans, teaching strategies, and behavioral supports. Users can download and print what each student’s support team needs to apply techniques and target learning objectives on a daily basis.

“During the last 10 years, many evidence-based strategies have surfaced to assist educators in teaching students with autism. What is important to remember is that no one teaching method works for all children, and methods described by researchers can be hard to translate to the classroom,” said Kevin Custer, CEO of Virtual Expert Clinics. “AutismPro delivers the tools educators need to develop and follow an intervention plan that is both consistent and individualized for each student with autism.”

AutismPro comes as a substantial growth in the number of students diagnosed with autism puts a huge strain on the capacity of school systems to serve these students nationwide.

In 2000, there were 93,000 students with autism attending U.S. schools, according to Virtual Expert Clinics. Now, there are more than 300,000 cases, and many industry professionals expect this number to increase to 500,000 by 2010.

The cost of educating a developmentally delayed child, like those classified on the autism spectrum, continue to climb and are generally considered to be four to 10 times that of other children (approximately $40,000 to $80,000 per year). In addition, districts are often confronted by well-prepared parents who are armed with resources that can force districts to provide a “high-quality” education for their autistic child–which, when placed offsite via a court order, can cost more than $100,000 per child, per year.

“What our school districts need are ways to demystify autism for the general education teacher and frontline educator–those people who work directly with students with autism,” said Custer. “Teachers and district administrators need full-time access to evidence-based resources that can provide solutions to complex issues. They need an efficient way to monitor and track the progress of each student. And finally, they need a solution that can effectively communicate the status and progress of each student to all people involved–teachers, special-education teams, parents, and administrators.”

AutismPro Workshops is available for as little as $50 per teacher for district implementations, while AutismPro Resources starts at $2,500 per school.