This purpose of this proposal is to develop a National Center on Inclusive Education for Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders and related disabilities, in response to P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, which earmarked $319,000 to the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire to conduct activities in the areas of education, training, and technical assistance to improve services for students with autism. As the population of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) increases (1 in 150 children is diagnosed with an ASD in the U.S.), educators need strategies and resources to improve their ability to teach these students in general education classrooms and neighborhood schools alongside non-disabled peers. Over 30 years of research has shown that academic and other important outcomes are positively correlated with the amount of time they spend in general education classrooms. Furthermore, the high costs and poorer outcomes associated with educating students with ASD in out-of-district and/or segregated placements are troubling to families, schools and communities. Emerging best practices need to be translated and broadly disseminated to teachers for use in formats that are accessible and sustainable. Furthermore, families must be fully engaged in the process of education, and therefore, also need skills to advocate for their sons and daughters. Finally, state and national policies must be informed by best practices in order that regulations, funding formulas, and enforcement activities support access to the general education curriculum, graduation, post-secondary education, and productive adult lives.
The Institute on Disability/UCED at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) is nationally recognized source of cutting edge research, teaching, and service related to children and youth with ASD. New Hampshire (NH) is ranked #1 across all 50 states in the percentage of time that students with ASD are spending in the general education classroom. Sixty-three percent of NH students with ASD receive their education in the general education classroom for the majority of the school day compared with only 27% nationally. However, over 11% or 16,000 students with ASD are educated in segregated educational or residential facilities outside of their own school district. Educating a student with ASD in an out-of-district placement is costly to school districts. Reducing the reliance on these expensive placement models and supporting school districts and families to educate students in local school districts will make more resources available to students and teachers.
The Center will implement activities in the areas of leadership development, personnel preparation, professional development, model demonstration in schools, model clinical evaluation services, and research and policy. A national Advisory Committee comprised of self-advocates with ASD, parents, educators, researchers, policymakers, and general community members will provide guidance and feedback to the Center's Project Management Team. Formative evaluation will be conducted for continuous project improvement and summative evaluation will be conducted to determine if the Center's goals and objectives were accomplished. Approximately 1,000 professionals, and 50 students and their families will benefit directly from project activities. Thousands of additional students, families, and professionals will benefit from the Center's dissemination activities.