Home > Family Services > Autism Awareness and Strategies for Public School Administrators

Autism Awareness and Strategies for Public School Administrators

Elizabeth V. Neumann, M.A., BCaBA

I was recently reflecting on my teaching career when selecting a topic for my master’s thesis. I wanted to focus on an area that could really make a difference for students with ASDs like the ones I had worked with. I believe I was most effective when I worked with administrators who understood what an autism diagnosis truly entails and what best practices are for these students. Now that I educate other school professionals through the nonprofit agency, Autism New Jersey, I have met many other teachers who share this view, as well as administrators themselves who recognize their critical role in this area. So I chose to research public school administrators’ current level of understanding of autism spectrum disorders. My graduate work was consistent with Autism New Jersey’s mission. As a training resource for parents and professionals for decades, my colleagues and I recognize that a key to effective school programs is consistent support from administrators, and we sought to learn more about their specific needs.

For my study, more than 300 public school superintendents, principals, and special services directors completed surveys. Their responses offered a wealth of information about their knowledge of autism, scientifically-validated strategies, and their strengths and challenges insupporting their staff and students. The data showed that most administrators have very little, if any, training in meeting the complex and unique educational needs of students with ASDs. This is through no fault of their own as there are no requirements pertaining to specific special needs in their certification programs, despite the fact that they are responsible for increasing numbers of students with autism. As school leaders, they make budgetary, curricular, staffing, and scheduling decisions that have a direct effect on students with ASDs without being equipped with evidence-based information that could guide them.

These data guided our development of workshop and publication content focused on the following areas: learning about autism and students’ educational needs; maximizing limited resources by identifying evidence-based practices; supporting staff of diagnosed students in all placements across campus; and providing an extensive list of resources across these topics. Through the partial support of an Autism Speaks Family Services Community Grant, we offered ten free workshops specifically tailored to this underserved yet crucial group of stakeholders in the autism community. Autism for Public School Administrators: What You Need to Know was sent to all special services directors in New Jersey as well as all workshop registrants.

This top-down approach to improving educational services has been very well-received by the participating administrators and the autism community at large. Participants have been most appreciative of this information, and it has been encouraging to see their desire to maximize their offerings to students with ASDs, their families, and the school professionals responsible for their education. One administrator summarized, “Your workshop gave me a terrific overview of autism – hopes and challenges – as well as a broader scope of the input and expertise necessary to sufficiently contribute to the independence of a student with autism.”

Parents and teachers, please encourage your superintendents, principals, and special services directors to order a free copy of Autism for Public School Administrators: What You Need to Know by calling 800.4.AUTISM or visiting www.autismnj.org. We hope that this initiative will be a valuable step to helping public school programs meet the intense needs of students with ASDs and are pursuing additional funding to continue and expand it on behalf of students with autism.

Please note that while the survey responses came solely from New Jersey, the information found in the workshops and publication is likely to be of great value to administrators throughout the country.


For more information about the Family Services Community Grants program, visit http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/grants/community-grants

  1. Sarah Wilkinson
    November 29, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    We are having a difficult time with the school understanding our daughter. Hopefully this will help. Thanks!

  2. Melissa
    November 29, 2011 at 3:33 pm

    I went to the website above to request a free copy but I do not see where to do it.

    • Mamma
      November 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      It’s under the Publications tab.
      You order it, then it gives you a link to download a PDF copy.

    • Kerri
      November 29, 2011 at 10:49 pm

      I looked all over too & couldn’t find it!! Please help!

      • November 30, 2011 at 11:34 am

        Hi Kerri,
        We moved the link to a clearer spot on our homepage under “Book of the Week” here: http://www.autismnj.org . You can print it or call us at 800.4.AUTISM for a hard copy to give to your administrator. Thanks for your interest!

  3. Todd Williams
    November 29, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Education is the only way that ASD will be understood by groups in the community that make very important decisions. There can be no greater disservice to our children and adults alike with this unforgiving disorder. Early intervention is the only “cure” or chance that these children have. Unfortunately this includes a lot more than just teachers and administrators. In one circumstance in Ohio this includes the judicial system that recently rewarded two autistic children to live with their father because the mothers ABA program was too harsh for the kids. She has years of documentation proving how far her children have come. She is soon to be a M.A., BCaBA, and a magistrate made an uneducated decision that these children should live with a convicted domestic violence offender. Obviously we are appealing this decision but it just goes further to prove education is the only way to keep these children in everyones best interest. Great job Elizabeth and I will do my best to keep spreading your word.
    Thanks, Todd Williams Blanchester, Ohio

  4. Steve Kaplan
    November 29, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Can’t wait to get a copy. Thanks!

  5. Matthew
    November 29, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    You need to come across the bridge to Philadelphia. The P.S.D. is severely lacking!

  6. November 29, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Thank you so much for what you are doing, Elizabeth. I am happy you are concerned about educating educators! It is so true that “people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge”, and you are giving them what they really need.
    I want to offer another resource as well – my website GoMommyGO.com, which offers my free illustrated behavior charts which I created as the mother of my own seven children while also working as an artist in animation. Since I began publishing them on the web in 2003 so many people have told me they help immensely with their children with ASD. Would you be so kind as to share it with others? There’s so much we can do if we join together to help. Here is the link: http://www.gomommygo.com/thankdontspank.html

  7. Noreen
    November 29, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Yes, It’s the BEHAVIOR piece they don’t get. You can simplify it by stating “positive reinforcement”, catch them at being good and praise and give attention for that. Also, redirecting, when a space out or zone out seems to be in progress. Organization skills are essential to all kids but especially to OURS. Routine and a Visual Schedule as well as many visuals used in the readings (pictures and words) to help with processing. We are all visual learners, just our kids really DEPEND on it. Speech services and OT should be given Automatically to any child on the Spectrum that has sensory problems. It’s a shame that we are constantly Battling Our School District on these MEDICALLY NECESSARY therapies because they are CHEAP where it COUNTS MOST and it will Cost them More in the end and it will Cost Our Kids success, which is more important if they don’t provide these as basics as well as Social Skills Classes and Buddies/Friends looking out for our kids. They need a lot of support and are complicated.

  8. Mamma
    November 29, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    I am a public school administrator AND a parent of a teenager with ASD- I feel I am particularly well-equipped, but know many others are not. I too am eager for this information to share with colleagues.

  9. Sandra Wardwell
    November 29, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Yes, I would like a copy myself, very much appreciated if u can send one.
    Thanks, Sandra Wardwell

  10. Sandra Wardwell
    November 29, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    Copy PLEASE!!!

    • November 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Hi Sandra,
      You can print a copy at http://www.autismnj.org/ (it is listed under “Book of the Week”) or call us at 800.4.AUTISM for a hard copy for your administrator. Thanks for your support!

  11. Nikki
    November 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    I went to the website to request a free copy as well, but I didn’t see the link to do so.

  12. Maria
    November 29, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I am so frustrated with the school system. Rachel being my no. six child and the only one with Abergers, it has been quite a bumpy ride! She attended a preschool for children with learning dissabilities. Her elementary years were a nightmare! from being lost for a week (she followed other children to the wrong classes) because the teacher who was to meet her at the bus forgot her.each year she started a new grade WE as parents had to review her “condition” to the new teacher. She was finally diagnosed at age seven and after years of her sitting at her desk with piles of worksheets which no one helped her with (I went to school with her three days a week). Now in high school at age fifteen, here we are again! Now she faces bullying! I am so angry! I feel like I need to take her out of school and have her do internet classes. She is a beautiful girl. very social. I know, hard to believe. She tries so hard to fit in. Her siblings help so much with her social skills. She had a couple of sexual harassment notes from a boy. The principal doesn’t seem to really know about dealing with children with autism. I am at my witts end. I have emailed and left messages for an iep. I have lost faith in the school system (I loved school). Please, what do you suggest? Thank you Maria

    • November 30, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Hi Maria,
      I’m sorry you’re having such difficulties. Please call our helpline 800.4.AUTISM to speak with one of my colleagues trained in this area. I hope your situation improves.

  13. Jana Thornbrugh
    November 29, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am ordering and sending to the director of Special Ed for Bartlesville, Ok schools. I have a grandson on the spectrum and for the past 5 years had nothing but problems. After having multiple encounters with the district, it has been very evident of their lack of understanding of same.

  14. November 30, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Thank you all for your kind words of support! I truly hope the booklet will be beneficial to each of your districts.

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