The number of students clinically diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has risen dramatically to 1 in 50 children or 2% of the total population (Centers for Disease control, 2013). Local schools require increased training and support to implement Evidence-Based Practices (EBP) for students with autism. Services for students with ASD tend to be less abundant and more challenging in rural areas. This study describes efforts of the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) and the Montana Autism Education Project (MEAP), to enhance educational programs for students with ASD in Montana to a) increase district-level knowledge of EBP using Relias’ interactive video training b) provide on-site assistance and peer-to-peer collaboration c) develop sustainable groups of well-trained educators and d) to develop inter-agency collaboration between OPI and school districts and other organizations.
Teachers and paraprofessionals that serve students with ASD in 26 schools participated in MEAP in 2012-2013. The schools included were located in or near Indian reservations. In 2011-12, 75 of 826 schools were comprised of 50% or more American Indian children (OPI, 2012).
Video Training- ATS/Relias Learning interactive videos were selected among various providers because the content of the training videos aligns with EBP and national standards. ATS/Relias Learning also provided and distributed surveys to teachers for the purpose of program evaluation. The video training allowed teachers to seek topics based on immediate need and interest. Training activities generally included watching a video exemplar or multiple video clips demonstrating the components of the topic or skills and then taking a competency check to assure a minimum level of comprehension was attained. Two surveys were conducted throughout the year to measure attitudes and level of confidence in teacher’s ability to provide EBPs as demonstrated in the videos. See Table below for results.
On-Site Training- MEAP hired a select group of experts to provide onsite consultation to school as needed. School visits involved a pre-visit consultation. The visit consisted of 1)observing the student 2) then analyzing the educational plan and 3) making recommendations to the team based on the observation and data.
Outreach- Montana was divided into five regions and personnel development teams were assigned to each region. Outreach included regional trainings and opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.
Interagency Collaboration- MEAP was created to enhance positive relationships with parent advocacy organizations, institutes of higher education and regional educational organizations.
Results and Discussion
The results of the surveys showed overall satisfaction with ATS/Relias Learning and a level of confidence in participant’s ability to provide EBPs as demonstrated in the videos. Open-ended responses described participant’s confidence and ability to implement strategies and techniques learned. It was evident from the responses that the participants felt the online video training was worth their time and effort. However it should be noted that MAEP did not verify skills and abilities of participants in regard to fidelity of EBP because of lack of resources. There is opportunity to conduct research on effectiveness of change in teacher fidelity of EBPs in the future. However, based on the needs of an expansive state with pockets of highly isolated schools, professional development has become possible through the use of online training, traveling consultants and outreach efforts from the MEAP.