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As part of our 20th anniversary celebration, we are debuting our updated START-isms. What are “-isms”? They are “concise and forcefully expressive phrases” (Oxford Languages online dictionary). So, what are START-isms? They are pithy phrases that represent the values that guide our work. As you explore the START-isms on our website, you will see classics that you have heard many times while others are new or refreshed. Some of these represent shifts in our thinking and understanding while others just needed to get written down. You will find that the START-isms are interdependent and build the structure for how we work together to make the lives of students with autism better.
Print, download, share and display the START-isms:
Inclusion is not a readiness model
IDEA is clear that all students, first and foremost, are general education students. Inclusion is not optional. Students do not have to earn their way into opportunities, whether that is a general education classroom, a friendship, or an extracurricular activity. All students can participate and benefit from inclusion with individualized support.
Peer to peer isn’t one more thing, it is the thing
If you could choose just one evidence-based practice that would have a far-reaching effect on the quality of life of all students, choose peer to peer support. It is not just an evidence-based practice, it is a way of being together that promotes belonging, friendship, unity, and a shared experience. No other “thing” is that powerful for students, teachers, schools, and communities.
Use data to tell the story
Data is more than numbers and graphs, it is the story that tells us whether our teaching is working the way we intend for a student or a classroom. Without data, we are guessing and hoping that what we do is leading to progress. Collecting data is just a first step. Summarizing and visualizing the data reveals the story that then guides us to make the best decisions.
Effective for all students; essential for some
Highly-effective universal strategies for academics, social competency, and behavioral support are essential for students who experience the world in a different way. Students with ASD may require visual supports, self-management systems, differentiated instruction, and transition cues to be successful in school settings. The pleasant surprise is that these strategies create a learning environment that is more conducive to learning and social interaction for everyone.
Families. The heart of the team, not just part of the team.
No one knows a student or loves a student the way a family does. Planning and decision-making needs to be guided by the team’s efforts to understand the life of the student both inside and outside of school. As the heart of the team, parents help to set the vision for what the student needs now to build a life and future with many opportunities.
Independence and social competency only develop with opportunities
Age-appropriate social skills develop with social opportunities and participation in grade-level integrated environments. Learning social skills in integrated settings with peers leads to natural experiences, real world feedback, and relationships. The goal for students with ASD is the same as for all children - to be independent and have meaningful social connections.
We did what we did when we knew what we knew. When we know better, we do better.
Our experiences and the ever-evolving research literature mean we are continually discovering new ways to work with students and families. We need to refrain from blaming ourselves or others for what we did in the past with good intentions. Once we have new information, we have a responsibility to adjust what we do to reflect the most effective practices of today.
It’s not no, it’s where and when
Intense interests and fascinations are a part of autism. The goal is not to deny access to a driving motivation or personal passion so that the individual will do what “we” want them to do. Instead, the goal is to teach the right time and the right place to access the interests or engage in the behavior. We can also incorporate those fascinations into learning and social interactions whenever possible.
All decisions are informed by the law, research, and data
Move away from opinion debates, feelings, and anecdotes to an evidence-based decision making model. When developing goals and designing educational plans, three key considerations are necessary for evidence-based decision making: 1) the requirements set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 2) the research literature on evidence-based practices, and 3) student outcome and system data.
Presuming competence means believing a person has the capacity to understand and learn—regardless whether there is consistent, tangible evidence that this is the case. It’s assuming the person is capable and can learn. How we think about a student's capabilities impacts the decisions we make. Low expectations will lead to minimal results, but when you aim high, students rise to meet those expectations.
Write it down, write it down, write it down
Individuals with autism often have language processing differences and a propensity for visual learning. Therefore, visual supports are non-negotiable. For some students it is text, for some it is a picture, and for many, it will be both. When verbal instruction is not leading to student success, make the words visual. Write them down, draw a picture, or find a video model.