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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

School board to review comprehensive autism plan

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

A comprehensive plan for modifying and improving services to Franklin County students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has been presented to the Franklin County School Board for review.

The plan will teach school staff the characteristics and behaviorisms of ASD and provide them with strategies to create a positive learning environment for students with ASD, said Catherine English, autism specialist with Pupil Personnel Services.

"There is definitely a need for this (comprehensive plan) in Franklin County," said Ed Jamison, school board chairman.

According to the plan, evidence-based programs would be explored during training and coaching sessions at the classroom, school, division, regional and state level, and evaluation would be ongoing to ensure the programs are successful.

There would also be consultation and support for staff, teachers, paraprofessionals and parents.

Field expertise would be built through communication and collaboration at the school, district and community levels.

"Through the comprehensive plan and the collaborative efforts of the autism action team, Franklin County schools would continue to enhance their knowledge and provide appropriate service in the least restrictive environment for students with ASD," said English.

Gills Creek board member, Bill Brush commended the special education department for moving forward on the effort.

"ASD is a real issue in the commonwealth," he said. "More and more children are being diagnosed with it."

At least 68 students in the county are being served per week, according to English.

"These kids have an opportunity to excel, and we need to do everything we can to ensure that happens," Brush added.

But expanded efforts and plan implementation could prove costly for the school division.

"There is a financial impact for some of the training and provisions that need to be in place," said Sue Rogers, assistant superintendent, and the school board plans to pay special attention to that area.

One of the biggest disconnects, according to G.B. Washburn, Snow Creek District member, seems to be the "difference in what parents see as best for their child and what the school system sees as best for the child."

"We are constantly trying to bridge that gap," said Gwen Adkins, director of special education for Franklin County. "We are trying to extend ourselves more and more to parents."

The Virginia Commonwealth University Autism Center for Excellence offers a module for parents, said English. And a parent support group is also meeting monthly, as well as other groups in the county and surrounding area for parents of children with ASD.

Although not yet mandated by the state, Franklin County schools has also begun moving forward with training for teachers.

"Over 60 of our paraprofessionals have taken a course (in autism)," said Rogers. "We've begun moving forward this year to ensure we get as many of our staff trained as possible."

"We encourage all staff to take the courses," Adkins said. "The ones who have taken it have had a real eye-opening experience."

Adkins said the courses are excellent and free of cost at this time.

Franklin County public schools, pupil personnel and parents of children with ASD have one thing in common, said Adkins: "Our focus is always on the needs of the children."

 
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