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Educational Philosophy

Educational Philosophy

ACT School Goals

ACT School is a literacy-based program that assumes the competence of the students served (Biklen & Burke, 2006; Biklen & Kliewer, 2006; Dawson, Soulieres, Gernsbacher & Mottron, 2007; Donnelan, 2006; Edelson, 2006) and provides the accommodations necessary to maximize the students’ academic achievement. 


The goal of ACT School is to:

  • Serve students with autism that have not succeeded in their regular district programs due to behavioral, sensory, and/or communication needs


  • To meet those needs within a challenging, literacy-based program that exposes students to grade level curriculum


  • To then integrate those students back into inclusive general education settings within their districts  


The ACT educational team follows the Arizona General Education Curriculum Standards while facilitating student understanding of grade level academics as well as the social/behavioral skill requirements that will be necessary to participate in a regular classroom setting within their home school district. 


Students are actively engaged in the process of identifying effective accommodations for themselves in relation to their communication, emotional, behavioral, and sensory needs.  Students are continuously provided with opportunities to address barriers and process through their struggles in order to achieve increasing levels of independence.  Instructional assistants rotate between students throughout each semester to ensure that students do not rely on a specific person, but instead learn to identify, request, and/or accept functional supports within multiple situations and environments. 


To support students in the transition to a general education setting in their home school district, parents are provided with techniques and training to implement successful supports in the home setting.  In addition, staff members in the students’ home district are provided with ongoing training and education on how to provide the students with functional and effective supports in order to be successful in their home district classroom.


The ACT School philosophy is based on numerous research findings (see references at the end of this document), and continues to evolve and change as new evidence-based research and information related to autism and best practice for treatment and education is brought to light.  ACT School staff members seek out new and updated brain research and related information on the implications for the provision of accommodations, the impact on learning, and the students’ ability to effectively demonstrate their cognitive abilities.  These findings, and their practical applications within the classroom, are then shared with all ACT staff and parents through ongoing consultation and direct training.

Best Practice

Best-Practice Approach

Indispensable elements of ACT School’s best practice approach are identified below. (Primary researchers are indicated, however, a complete list of research references is available at the end of this document.)


  • The identification of autism as primarily a psychomotor regulation disorder (i.e. an inability to initiate, inhibit, and/or sustain movement which impedes demonstration of true intent and masks cognition (Dziuk et al., 2007; Nayate, Bradshaw, & Rinehart, 2005; Rineshart, Bradshaw, Brereton, & Tonge, 2001; Teitelbaum et al., 2004; Teitelbaum, Teitelbaum, Nye, Fryman, & Mauer, 1998; Vilensky, Damasio, & Maurer, 1981)


  • The identification of emotional motor dysregulation that exacerbates the psychomotor regulation symptomatology (Dapretto et al., 2006; Trevarthen et al., 1998; Williams, 1996)


  • The presumption of competence due to lack of empirical data linking autism and mental retardation, and the existence of data linking dyspraxia in autism to decrease IQ scores (Biklen & Burke, 2006; Biklen & Kliewer, 2006; Dawson, Soulieres, Gernsbacher, & Mottron, 2007; Donnelan 2006; Edelson, 2006)


  • The provision of competency-based communication accommodations that decrease frustration and thus improve emotional motor responses; provision of a communication system that allows for active, ongoing, open-ended communication vs. fixed and predetermined responses (Biklen & Burke, 2006; Donnelan, 2006; Wetherby, Prizant, & Schuler, 2000)


  • The provision of sensory accommodations that improve sensory processing and facilitate motor mapping which in turn allows for skill demonstration and initiation of novel motor patterns (Anzalone & Williamson, 2000)


  • The provision of rhythmic accommodations that prime the motor system and facilitate initiation and fluency of movement as well as improve cognitive processing via neurologic music therapy standardized interventions (Hardy & Lagasse, 2013; Thaut, 2005)


  • The use of the “Least to Most Strategy” (i.e. providing varying levels of touch support to maximize independence while allowing for optimal demonstration of cognitive potential) (Chadwick, 1995) 


  • The recognition and ongoing provision of varying levels of support (i.e. physical, communication, emotional) and the provision and fading of those supports as needed (Institution on Communication and Inclusion, 2000)

Academic Foundation

Academic Foundation and Curriculum

ACT School employs a special education teacher and may serve up to 12 students.  ACT educators provide a literacy-based environment through whole group instruction with differentiated learning (small group or individual instruction) based on ongoing individualized IEP goals and student needs.  Students are expected to actively participate in the whole group instructional setting similar to that which will be required in the students’ district general education programs.  


ACT School educators use a curriculum developed to address three major areas: academics, electives, and transition skills.  ACT follows a general education curriculum with modified task performance and communication in all subject areas including math, science, social studies, and language arts.  Additionally, students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of electives throughout the school year including creative arts (piano lab, composition, music and art history), foreign languages, Recreational Sports, and Yoga/BodyWorks.


The transition skills portion of the curriculum provides students with the opportunity to develop necessary life skills in the natural environment.  Students participate in a Career and Life Exploration class, snack/food preparation, laundry skills, volunteer opportunities, leisure skill development, community outings, and social events.  Volunteer opportunities are scheduled quarterly through a partnership with St. Vincent de Paul.  During these outings, students provide assistance at a food distribution center.  Leisure skills are developed and addressed through a partnership with the Virginia G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center for Persons with Disabilities (SpoFit).  Scheduled on a monthly basis, the visit to SpoFit gives students access to the full gym setting that includes exercise equipment, basketball courts, swimming pool, jogging track, and climbing wall.  Educational field trips/community outings may be scheduled on a quarterly basis to enhance curriculum focus and promote community awareness.

Related Services

Related Services

A variety of related services are provided to the students as determined by individual IEP goals and identified needs.  Based on the function and goal of the overall program, educators and therapists maximize in-class participation and minimize pullout therapies. 


ACT School utilizes speech therapists, neurologic music therapists, vision therapists, and/or occupational therapists to provide direct student consultation and support within the classroom setting, as well as to provide training to program staff.  This allows for the communication and sensory needs of students to be met effectively and consistently throughout the day versus being only addressed and met during a specified therapy session time.  Additionally, therapists are encouraged to provide home program information and training to support carryover to all settings.   


Lastly, each student receives group Neurologic Music Therapy for 30 minutes two times daily in order to facilitate and optimize sensory integration, body mapping in the brain, cognitive processing, and self-regulation skills that are necessary for active learning.  Due to the fact that ACT is housed within the NMTSA clinic, students and staff members have immediate access to all Neurologic Music Therapists on site.  This allows students to receive individual NMT treatment interventions that promote self-regulation and improve cognitive processing to immediately support student needs. 

Extended Learning

Extended Learning  |  Home and Family Follow Through

ACT encourages active parent involvement in the students’ educational process.  Parents are provided with frequent educational opportunities through NMTSA parent and community education/training program, ACT School parents meetings, and biannual Family Cross-Training sessions.  Additionally, parents have access to up-to-date and current information (research articles, books, publications, workshop/in-service notifications, etc.) through the NMTSA Information and Empowerment Center.

Instructional Assistant

Instructional Assistant Training

Instructional Assistants are provided with 30-60 hours of initial training and coaching followed by 7 hours a month of ongoing training as well as daily team meetings. Training is provided by ACT Administrators, Special Educators, On-Site, Consultants, and Specialized/Contracted Staff based on the module and training subject i.e. Occupational Therapists trained in sensory integration provide swing training, Speech Therapists specializing in apraxia and speech cuing provide speech support training, etc.


Training Modules for Initial On-Boarding Unclude:

  • -HIPAA Training

  • -Health and Safety Training (includes OSHA, Fire Safety, Lifting/Body Mechanics, Managing Difficult Behaviors, etc.)

  • -Organization Policy/Procedures/Operations Module

  • -Philosophy and Competency-Based Module

  • -Cognitive-Motor and Neuro Underpinnings Module

  • -Sensory Supports Module  (Proprioceptive, Vestibular, Visual, Tactile, Arousal, Rhythmic)

  • -Emotional Supports Module

  • -Competency-Based Communication Level I

  • -Documentation Module (Data Collection, Student Work Evaluations, Daily Notes, Data Collection, Engagement Tracking, Behavior Tracking)

  • -Instructional Assistant Role in the Classroom (ACT and Clinical that support the classroom)

  • -Transition Support (General Education Classroom, Community Outings, Volunteer Work)

  • -Team Building and Communication (Cycle of Support and Problem-Solving)


Additional Training Provided as Staff Present Ready:

Speech Cuing

Swing Training

Advanced Rhythmic Supports

Competency-Based Communication Training Level II

Understanding Evidence-Based Practice

Movement 101

Research Article Reviews (Cognitive-Motor, Education/Presuming Competence, Communication, Rhythm)


ACT staff members are required to attend daily and weekly staff meetings and/or extended trainings provided by ACT education staff, administrative staff, and/or related service providers.  During these educational opportunities, staff members learn and refine their skills, techniques, and strategies related to evidence-based treatment methodologies for persons with autism.  Content relates to specific accommodations based on individual student need, develops skills in the areas of communication support, rhythmic support, and sensory support, furthers staff education on literacy-based  communication strategies, facilitates understanding of best practices, updated research, etc.

Transition Process

The Transition Process

Steps to Support the Student in Transition

In order for students to successfully transition into a general education classroom in their home school district, ACT School has developed a structured plan outlining necessary steps and specifications to support the student in this transition.  This plan is outlined below:



Meet standards of the Exit Criteria (to be reviewed and determined by the IEP team).



Determine supports needed:

  • ŸSensory Supports (sensory supports needed, sensory equipment needed, student’s current level of providing self-accommodations, and student’s expected level of self-accommodation at time of transition, district/school agreement to provide described sensory supports)


  • ŸCommunication Supports (description of communication supports needed, communication devices/objects needed, district/school agreement to provide described communication supports)


  • ŸPositive behavior support plan for the new placement (determine if needed)



Determine placement (staff, teacher, classroom, and curriculum):

  • ŸParent and ACT Educator visit possible classroom placements, narrow down classroom options, then student visits up to two possible placements (with parent and ACT Educator)


  • ŸAn IEP Team transition meeting is held to determine specific teacher, classroom, staff involved, transportation, and pace of transition (full or part time)



Description of training requirements for all district staff members working with the student:

  • ŸIn general, passing of training is determined by NMTSA instructors and involves at a minimum participation in the full training and completion of a training comprehension assessment with a passing score of 95%


  • ŸIdentification of district/school staff members to work with the student (teacher, instructional assistant, additional staff)


  • ŸCompetency-Based Communication Training Level I (followed by Level II within four months)


  • ŸNMTSA Philosophy and Practice Training


  • ŸObservation of ACT School (minimum of two full days)


  • ŸWork directly with the student in the ACT classroom under the supervision of an ACT educator and/or support staff


  • ŸReceive a passing level on a student specific evaluation assessment (minimum of three days)



Post-Placement Process:

  • ŸThe team determines benchmarks for measuring transition success (benchmarks must be measurable)


  • ŸACT educator and/or ACT support staff observes student in new classroom setting a minimum of one time per week for the first month, with each observation lasting the full school day.  After this time, observations continue once a month for three additional months


  • ŸCommunication via email between ACT educator and new teacher once a week for the first six months


  • ŸTeam reconvenes with student three months after transition to discuss progress, concerns, achievements, and questions


  • Revisions to the plan are made based on the results of the meeting

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