Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Every student deserves access to the supports they need in order to find success both inside and outside the classroom. Ministry of Education continues to provide support for school boards to implement programs and services based on the needs of each student receiving special education programs and services.

Ontario's government is putting families first by engaging with parents of children with autism on further enhancements to the Ontario Autism Program. Starting in May 2019, the government will engage in public consultations through an online survey and telephone town halls. These consultations will help inform how our government can better support children and youth with autism who have complex needs, including through additional direct funding.

Currently, Ministry of Education initiatives supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) include:

  • Policy and Program Memorandum (PPM) No. 140, Incorporating Methods of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) into Programs for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • ABA Expertise Professionals in every school board
  • $15.2 million in funding toward Behaviour Expertise Amount (BEA) to support school boards in using ABA instructional methods
  • ABA training requirements for school boards
  • Geneva Centre for Autism training opportunities for nearly 2,200 educators across the province
  • Thousands of teachers graduating from Ontario teacher education programs since 2017 receiving special education professional development

The ministry is continuously making changes to be more responsive to the needs of students. To make sure students, educators and families are supported from early years to Grade 12, the government has designed a plan to support students with ASD.

Enhancing Education Support: A Plan for Students with Autism:

1. Promoting Professional Learning so that our teachers and educational assistants (EAs) are well prepared to support students with Autism

The ministry is committed to supporting school boards, school leaders, teachers and educational assistants to be well prepared to support students with ASD.

Currently over 70,000 of Ontario's teachers have additional qualifications in special education. and over 1,000 have additional qualifications for Teaching Students with Communication Needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder). The ministry will provide $1 million in annual funding to fully subsidize teachers who wish to acquire this additional qualification. The ministry anticipates that this support would allow up to 4,000 teachers to acquire this qualification over the next three years.

The ministry will also increase training opportunities available to school boards by doubling annual funding for the Geneva Centre for Autism to $2 million to provide training opportunities for educators, including teachers and educational assistants (EAs). Training will include access to the Registered Behaviour Technician (RBT) course. The ministry anticipates that up to 4,400 educators could be trained annually through this new investment.

In 2019-20, the ministry will request that school boards focus the special education topic on the list of Professional Activity Day permitted topics on supporting students with ASD. Policy/Program Memorandum 151 will be amended to include this direction.

In 2020-21, the ministry will mandate that school boards support learning opportunities for all educators in supporting students with ASD, within a professional activity day.

The ministry will support new teachers by revising the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) Induction Elements Manual to include increased ABA-based training opportunities.

2. Funding for Behaviour Expertise and Student Supports

The Behaviour Expertise Amount Allocation (BEA) provides funding for school boards to hire board-level ABA expertise professionals. These professionals support principals, teachers, educators and other school staff by providing and coordinating ABA coaching, training and resources. They are also intended to support transitions, collaboration and information sharing between community-based autism service providers, school staff and families. This funding also provides for training opportunities to build school board capacity in ABA. The BEA allocation will be $15.2 million in 2018-19 and will be continued in 2019-20.

3. Expanding After School Skills Development Programs

The ministry has been supporting a pilot program in many boards to allow the provision of the After School Skills Development Program. The ministry will make an investment of $6.1 million to allow this successful pilot to be extended to all school boards across the province in the 2019-20 school year.

4. Support Transitions including through the Connections for Students multidisciplinary transition team model with autism service providers, educators and families.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services will continue supporting transitions of children with ASD to school through the Connections for Students model during the transition to the redesigned OAP.

The ministry will also host a series of virtual sessions about exclusions and modified days to engage parents, educators, administrators and others in a dialogue about these complex issues. The details will be communicated at a later date.

The ministry will survey school boards regularly to assess the impact of increased school enrolment and attendance by children and youth with ASD as they transition into the school system. The ministry will also ask boards to provide information on their websites for families seeking to enrol their children and youth.

2018-19 School Year
To recognize school boards' in-year needs, the ministry will recognize students with ASD as they enrol in school in the remaining months of the 2018-19 school year by extending the pupil count date beyond March 31, 2019. With this extension of the count date, school boards will receive on average $12,300 per pupil to support students with ASD as they transition into school.

Next Steps
The Ministry of Education will be surveying school boards regularly to assess the impact of increased school attendance and registration by children and youth with ASD as they transition into the school system. As a result of this data collection, the ministry will be able to more accurately assess what supports are needed at the local level.

The Ontario government recognizes that we need to support children with special education needs and help them to transition to the classroom. The Ministry of Education is committed to working with the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Ontario families, educators and schools boards to achieve seamless transition supports for students.

Memorandum To: Directors of Education, Secretary/Treasurers of School Authorities
From: Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister
Issue date: March 11, 2019
Subject: Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The following provides information on school-based supports available for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):

Frequently Asked Questions: Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

My child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is ready to start school in the publicly funded school system. What can I expect?
As part of a team, the school principal, teachers, other educators and relevant community personnel should work with parents and families to plan for their child's successful transition into school. Parents and families are a valuable source of information about their children and have an important role to play in supporting their children's successful transition. Parents and families can share relevant information about their children with their school team. The Ministry of Education resource Planning Entry to School provides more information to support successful entry to school.

Students with ASD may require special education programs and services. Special Education in Ontario: K-12 Policy and Resource Guide provides parents with information on the delivery of special education programs and services in Ontario publicly funded schools.

Exceptional pupils are identified as such by an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC). Upon receiving a written request from a student's parent(s)/guardian(s), the principal of the school must refer the student to an IPRC. Through the IPRC process, students may be identified with an exceptionality, for example, with the exceptionality of Communication – Autism. Following the IPRC an Individual Education Plan (IEP) will be developed by the school in consultation with the parent. School boards also have the discretion to develop an IEP for students who have not been identified as exceptional.

The IEP is a written plan describing the special education programs and/or services required by a particular student based on a thorough assessment of their strengths and needs that affect the student's ability to learn and to demonstrate learning. The IEP will include Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) instructional methods to support students with ASD, as appropriate. Further information on the provision of ABA in schools is provided in the Ministry's Policy Program Memorandum 140 (PPM 140).

Where students have an IEP, schools develop a transition plan as well for that student. More information on planning for students with ASD can be found in the Ministry's PPM 140.

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What is an Individual Education Plan? Will my child have one?
If a student has been identified as an exceptional pupil by an Identification, Placement and Review Committee (IPRC), the principal must ensure that an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed for the student. An IEP is a planning document that describes the special education programs and/or services that the school board will provide to the student and includes a transition plan to help them move through phases of their learning career.

The IEP should be reviewed at least once every reporting period and updated as appropriate in view of the student's progress. Principals should ensure that relevant school board personnel and community personnel who have previously worked and/or are currently working with a student with ASD are invited to provide input and participate in the IEP process. Parents and families are also consulted on their children's IEP. More information on IEPs and transition plans can be found in Special Education in Ontario Kindergarten to Grade 12 Policy and Resource Guide.

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What is an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC)?
Students are identified with special education exceptionalities through an Identification, Placement, and Review Committee (IPRC). Upon receiving a written request from a student's parent and/or family, the principal of the school must refer the student to an IPRC. The IPRC will decide whether the student is an exceptional pupil and, if so, what type of educational placement is appropriate. More information on the IPRC process can be found in Special Education in Ontario Kindergarten to Grade 12 Policy and Resource Guide.

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What is Connections for Students and how can it help my child?
If a child or youth is school-aged, Connections for Students can help them move from community-based services delivered through the Ontario Autism Program into school. The Connections for Students program is centred on multi-disciplinary, student-specific, school-based transition teams.

The transition team includes parent(s)/guardian(s), School Support Program ASD Consultants, teacher(s), school principal or principal's designate and other relevant community or school board personnel who have previously worked and/or are currently working with a student with ASD.

The school-based transition team will work to align the goals of a student's Individual Service Plan with his or her school-based IEP, where appropriate.

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Who makes decisions about the education my child receives?
Teachers and other educators work to develop a student's Individual Education Plan with input from parents and families, relevant school board personnel, and relevant community personnel (when parents and families have provided consent), including ABA instructional methods where appropriate. Parents and families have valuable information that they can share about their children. Boards will consult parents and families to ensure a student receives the best education possible. A student's principal is responsible for their IEP.

The principal signs the IEP to indicate his or her assurance that the plan is appropriate to the student's strengths and needs and that it meets all of the ministry standards.

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How can my child be supported by ABA Instructional Methods?

Students with ASD have a wide range of educational needs. Policy Program Memorandum 140 (PPM 140) sets out expectations for educators in the use of ABA. It states that “Principals are required to ensure that ABA methods are incorporated into the IEPs of students with ASD, where appropriate.”

The following principles underlie instructional ABA programming that is provided to students with ASD, where appropriate.

The program should be individualized; positive reinforcement should be utilized; data should be collected and analysed; and transfer, or generalization, of skills should be emphasized.

ABA instructional methods in school may look different from ABA services provided in community-based and therapeutic programs; it may differ in the intensity of hours and service. Some of the ABA methods that schools use, include: prompting, modeling, task analysis, and the use of reinforcement.

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What do school staff know about ASD and applied behaviour analysis (ABA)? What supports are available to them?
Policy/Program Memorandum 140 Incorporating Methods of Applied Behaviour Analysis into Programs for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) directs educators to use ABA instructional methods in programming for students with ASD, where appropriate. The Ministry of Education recognizes the importance of continuous capacity building of school boards and educators in supporting students with ASD through targeted training opportunities.

The ministry provides funding to school boards to hire board level ABA expertise professionals. This funding allows every school boards in the province to hire at least one expert in ABA. School board ABA expertise professionals provide and coordinate training on ABA instructional methods and resources at the school board and school level and provide support for educators.

The ministry provides funding to the Geneva Centre for Autism to offer online and in-person ABA-based training opportunities for educators across the province. The ministry also provides $3 million annually for school boards for training opportunities to build school board capacity in ABA.

Since 2006, more than 30,000 educators, including school principals, teachers, educational assistants, have received training to support ABA instructional methods in the publicly funded school system.

The ministry also has a resource guide for teachers called Effective Educational Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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Who do I contact if I have questions about my child's education or services and supports for my child?
When parents and families are involved in their children's education, everyone benefits – students, parents, teachers, schools and communities. Great schools can become even better places to teach and learn, and student achievement often improves.

When there are questions about a student's special education programs and services, parents and families can first speak to the person most involved in the student's education: the classroom teacher or the special education (resource) teacher. In addition to talking to a teacher, parents and families may also wish speak with the principal of their children's school who can help guide them to other school board resources.

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How will my child be prepared when it is time to move to a new classroom, grade or school?
As a student moves through their learning career, changes in their learning needs are aligned with the transition plan which is part of their Individual Education Plan. Policy Program Memorandum 140 and Policy Program Memorandum 156, both provide guidance to school board staff on transition planning for students with ASD. School board staff must plan for the transition between various activities and settings involving students with ASD.

Parents and families, along with educators and relevant community personnel are involved, through the IEP process, in the planning for transitions.

These transitions may include:

  • entering school;
  • changing between activities and settings or classrooms;
  • transitioning between grades;
  • moving from school to school or from an agency to a school;
  • moving from elementary to secondary school; and
  • transitioning from secondary school to postsecondary destinations and/or the workplace.

Where can I learn more about the Ontario Autism Program (OAP)?
More information on the OAP can be found on the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services' website.

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My child is transitioning from the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) to school. What should I expect?
If a child or youth is school-aged, Connections for Students may be able to help them move from community-based services delivered through the OAP into school. The Connections for Students program is centred on multi-disciplinary, student-specific, school-based transition teams.

The transition team includes parent(s)/guardian(s), School Support Program ASD Consultants, teacher(s), school principal or principal's designate and other relevant community or school board personnel who have previously worked and/or are currently working with a student with ASD.

As a team, they will work to align the goals the student was working on in the OAP with his or her school-based IEP. Parents and families are encouraged to contact their local school for more information about transitioning to school.

The Ministry of Education will also ask school boards to provide information on their websites for families seeking to enrol their children and youth.

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What is the Ministry doing to support increased school attendance or entry to school as a result of the redesign to Ontario Autism Program?
The Ministry of Education has a comprehensive plan of action in place to facilitate the transition for students with Autism to classrooms. To address school boards' in-year needs, the ministry will provide an extended count date for students who have been clients of the Ontario Autism Program and are enrolling in the April to June 2019 school months. School boards will be asked to report enrolment as of March 31 as usual. However, an extended count date will be established for eligible students and school boards will be able to receive full school year funding for newly enrolled students for the remaining months of the 2018-19 school year. School boards receive on average $12,300 per pupil so boards will be able to plan supports for newly enrolled students with this funding.

In addition, the ministry is supporting the following initiatives:

  • The ministry will make an investment of $6.1 million to allow the After School Skills Development Programs pilot to be extended to all school boards across the province in the 2019-20 school year.
  • The ministry will provide $1 million in funding annually to fully subsidize teachers who wish to acquire the Teaching Students with Communication Needs (Autism Spectrum Disorder) additional qualification over the next three years.
  • The ministry will also increase training opportunities available to school boards by doubling annual funding for the Geneva Centre for Autism to $2 million to provide training opportunities for educators, including teachers and educational assistants (EAs). Training will include specialized programs for EAs including access to the Registered Behaviour Technician (RBT) course
  • In 2019-20, the ministry will request that school boards focus the special education topic on the list of Professional Activity Day permitted topics on supporting students with ASD. PPM 151 will be amended to include this direction.
  • In 2020-21, the ministry will mandate that school boards devote one half-day of a Professional Activity Day to support a learning opportunity for all Ontario educators in supporting students with ASD.
  • The ministry will support new teachers by revising the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) Induction Elements Manual (2018) to include increased ABA-based training opportunities.
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