Strides for special education

 Hunter College professor Shirley Cohen presents on the ASD Nest model at the New York City Special Education Conference on Feb. 21. Photo by Andres Beckles, courtesy of Education Update.

Hunter College professor Shirley Cohen presents on the ASD Nest model at the New York City Special Education Conference on Feb. 21. Photo by Andres Beckles, courtesy of Education Update

The news rattled through the crowd of nearly 200 educators and parents at the annual New York City Special Education Conference at Hunter College.

One middle school and 14 elementary schools are now providing a special model of early intervention for students with autism spectrum disorder, said Hunter College professor Shirley Cohen. The growth surprised the audience of special education experts, who are generally unaccustomed to good news when it comes to increased services.

The model, “ASD Nest,” aims to meet the needs of higher functioning children along the autism spectrum. These special classrooms integrate children with autism spectrum disorders with normally developing children. Educators and therapists specially trained in autism spectrum disorders teach alongside general education teachers, using multiple strategies.

Ten years ago, only four out of every 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism, explained Cecilia McCarton, founder and executive director of the McCarton School, a not-for-profit foundational school in Manhattan for 24 children with autism spectrum disorders. Now, she said, one out of every 150 is placed on the spectrum.

“One shoe does not fit all children,” said McCarton, “just as one approach does not fit them all for education.” Rather, an integrated model for education, unifying the many skills and disciplines long associated with special education should be tried. The ASD model fits that bill. It employs everything from applied behavior analysis to speech/language pathology, occupational therapy and sensory integration to reach children with autism.

The tone of the conference was one of joy, characterized best by Dr. Pola Rosen, the founder and editor of Education Update, which sponsored the conference. “I salute all of you here in this room,” she said. “We’ve come a long way.”

— Jodi Broadwater

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