All Header Images © Daniel Voegelin  

DDS Open Enrollment for the AUTISM WAIVER Oct. 17 – 31, 2018


 OCTOBER 17th – OCTOBER 31st, 2018

Applications and information on the Autism Waiver are now available on the DDS/Autism division website and the MAC website.
Any enrollment forms submitted previously will be discarded.
Families must apply again during this open enrollment period to remain on the wait list.

Applications MUST be postmarked or emailed between October 17th and 31st

Important information on the Waiver:

  • This crucial program allows MassHealth eligible children with autism to access intensive treatments and services in their homes and communities.
  • The program is limited to children between the ages of 0-8 who are MassHealth eligible and at risk of residential placement now or at some point in the future.
  • Eligible children are chosen for Autism Waiver services on a lottery basis and once chosen, receive intensive in-home therapies, services and supports for 3 years, or until the child reaches the age of 9. After 3 years the child is eligible for less intensive step-down services until age 9.  The waiver also provides related support services such as community integration activities and respite.
  • For the application go to: DDS/Autism division website or MAC’s website
  • Click this link to find your local Autism Support Center to get help filling out the application

For more information contact Johanne Pino at or 617-357-8431 x3234

Massachusetts Advocates for Children
        25 Kingston Street, 2nd. Floor, Boston, MA 02111
Tel. 617.357.8431 · Fax 617.357.8438 ·

PDF Version of this flyer


Revised Start-End Times Letter to Families

Dear SpedPAC families,

We wanted to make sure you are aware of the community meetings that are being held this week to discuss the proposed bell times for the 2018-2019 school year in case you would like to attend. A list of all the meetings can be found here:

If you are unable to attend one of the meetings or prefer to contact your elected officials to voice your opinion or concerns, you can reach them here:

City of Boston 311 Hotline:

Boston City Council:

As always, you can contact us directly at  or 617.297.7335 regarding this or any other issue you may be facing. (Please note that the issue form on our website is not currently working, so email is the best way to reach us with any sped related issues for the immediate future.)

With thanks,

Boston SpedPAC Executive Board


Start-End Times Letter to Families

Dear SpedPAC families,

As you are all aware, BPS recently changed the start and end times for a significant number of schools across the district for the 2018 – 2019 school year.

We wanted to make sure you know there is a Boston School Committee meeting tomorrow night 12/13 at 6 pm at the Bolling Building (2300 Washington Street, Roxbury) where there will be an opportunity for public comment, and BPS just sent out an email stating that they have set up special community meetings to address concerns around the new start times.   A link to the community meetings can be found here:

If you prefer to contact your elected officials to voice your concerns, you can reach them here:

City of Boston 311 Hotline:

Boston City Council:

As always, you can contact us directly at or 617.297.7335 regarding this or any other issue you may be facing. (Please note that the issue form on our website is not currently working, so email is the best way to reach us with any sped related issues for the immediate future.)

With thanks,
Boston SpedPac Executive Board


Lakes and pools can be deadly for children with autism. But tailored swim lessons can save lives

Amusement parks, lakes, neighbors’ pools — they are dangers that families of children with autism have long known anecdotally to beware of.

Jessica Lapen discovered this about 10 years ago. She was at a family gathering at her parents’ home when she noticed that her son, Micah, was missing.

“He was 6 or 7,” she recalled. “We knew that he would leave safe areas. We found out that he had gone down the road to a neighbor’s house, and when they saw him, he was climbing the ladder to their above-ground pool.”

An authoritative study earlier this year put some numbers to the fear. Drowning is the most common fatal injury among children with autism, researchers found. Children with autism age 14 and younger are 160 times as likely to die from drowning as the general pediatric population, with drowning risk peaking from age 5 to 7.

Such cases make headlines many times each summer. Now, researchers are working to understand the risks and how to counteract them — including helping parents and swim instructors teach water safety to autistic children.

“The causes of drowning for kids with autism is multifactorial,” said Dr. Jeremiah Dickerson, a pediatric psychiatrist who directs the autism diagnostic clinic at the University of Vermont Medical Center. “Impulsivity is one part of it. They may not see the water as a danger, that they could fall in or that they could drown.”

The sensory aspects of water can also attract children with autism, though for different reasons, said Michele Alaniz, a behavioral therapist in California. “For autistic kids who seek out stimulation, they are attracted to the way it sounds, the play of light on it and the feeling of buoyancy and the way it feels on the body,” she said. For kids who are driven to isolating themselves from stimulation, on the other hand, “water can be very calming, especially under the water, where there is a muffling of external sound and a kind of quiet,” said Alaniz.

That can lead kids to submerge themselves in water and not realize the danger — or to not have the skills to act if they do.

“We’ve put these children in the pool, and where others would sort of cling to the wall and hold on, the ones with autism would just release and sink,” said Alaniz.

“Even when they know they’re in trouble, they may not have the communication, the language to say they need help,” said Dickerson. “And with the motor discoordination some of them have, they may not be able to pull themselves out of the water.”

Swimming safely

The good news is that research shows children with autism can learn to be safe around water. A study published in September in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders offers preliminary evidence that even children with severe autism can learn techniques to avoid drowning.

“It’s more of a challenge to teach kids with severe autism,” Alaniz said. “But, yes, they can learn to swim safely, [with] skills like breath control and how to turn over in the water.”

Advocacy organizations, community centers, and schools are creating water safety classes for children with autism. Pathfinders for Autism offers a tip sheet for swim instructors who may encounter students with autism. Autism Speaks provides swim classes for children with autism and financial need with swim lesson scholarships, awarding them to 134 organizations in 31 states since 2014.

Some of those scholarships went to children at the Texas Swim Academy near Houston. Founder Kathleen McMordie, a nurse and swim instructor, explained that there are important accommodations needed for children with autism. The adjustments include getting them accustomed to being touched and to the feel of the water. Instructors may also have to teach lessons or parts of lessons in a different order than usual. These are among the reasons that swim lessons for children with autism are given individually, rather than in the usual group setting.

But the most important requirement, said McMordie, is being patient with the way children with autism receive, understand, and follow instructions. She gave the example of having children place their faces in the water, which is among the first lessons taught in swim classes.

“With neurotypical kids, you might just say, ‘OK, now, face in.’ But for a child with autism, it’s a little different. You say, ‘OK, put your face in the water.’ And then you wait.”

It takes more time for kids with autism to move mentally from instruction to action, McMordie explained. “You wait while they process: ‘OK, she said to do this, and now I do this with my head, and then I do this.’ And they put their face in.

“But if you don’t wait, and you’re just going, ‘Put your face in, put your face in, put your face in,’” she added, “you’re interrupting that process for them.”

In addition to giving autistic children more time with instruction, Dickerson also recommends taking a “comic-book approach” to swim instruction for autistic children by using pictures to help the children understand what they are told.

The Texas Swim Academy uses this method. “It’s just a picture of one of the instructors doing something, like putting our face in the water or kicking with a kick board,” said Patty McPherson, the school’s aquatics director. “We took pictures of them doing these things, then we laminated the pictures and use them to show what to do.”

Jessica Lapen credits such lessons with keeping her son, Micah, now 16 years old, safe over all the intervening years since that frightening day a decade ago.

“If the neighbor hadn’t found him back then, it would have ended very differently,” she said. “But after that happened, we really worked with him on learning to be water safe.”

 About the Author

BuildBPS Neighborhood Workshops 2017

BuildBPS Parent Advisory Group members:

Revised Schedule for the BuildBPS Neighborhood Workshops
Please share the updated flyers (attached in English and in Spanish) with your networks. 

Flyers English and Spanish 

May 23rd             Allston-Brighton (Edison)

May 25th             Roxbury/Fenway/Back Bay/South End/North End/Charlestown (Timilty)

May 30th             Jamaica Plain/Roxbury/Mission Hill (Curley)

May 30th             Dorchester/South Boston (Mather)

June 1st               West Roxbury/Roslindale/Hyde Park (Ohrenberger)

June 6th               Roxbury/Dorchester/Mattapan/Hyde Park (Lilla Frederick)

June 6th               East Boston (East Boston High)

All events are from 5:30-8.  Food and childcare will be provided.

As a reminder, these Neighborhood Workshops will be used to guide and inform the next steps in the BuildBPS Master Plan.  Today, too many of the BPS facilities do not reflect Boston’s deep commitment to outstanding public schools. Educators and students alike make the best possible use of the spaces available, but they deserve much more than the aging building stock currently has to offer.
Help us get the word out about these events and bring the community together to decide how to spend the $1B that the Mayor has committed over the next ten years.


Along the Autism Spectrum, a Path Through Campus Life


Crosby J. Gardner, with Michelle Elkins, the director of Western Kentucky University’s Kelly Autism Program, which provides an “educational, social and supportive environment so that those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder can achieve their potential as independent, productive and active community citizens.” CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Crosby J. Gardner has never had a girlfriend. Now 20 and living for the first time in a dorm here at Western Kentucky University, he has designed a fast-track experiment to find her.

He ticks off the math. Two meals a day at the student dining hall, three courses per meal. Girls make up 57 percent of the 20,068 students. And so, he sums up, gray-blue eyes triumphant, if he sits at a table with at least four new girls for every course, he should be able to meet all 11,439 by graduation.

“I’m Crosby Gardner!” he announces each time he descends upon a fresh group, trying out the social-skills script he had practiced in the university’s autism support program. “What is your name and what is your major?”

The first generation of college students with an autism diagnosis is fanning out to campuses across the country. These growing numbers reflect the sharp rise in diagnosis rates since the 1990s, as well as the success of early-learning interventions and efforts to include these students in mainstream activities.

But while these young adults have opportunities that could not have been imagined had they been born even a decade earlier, their success in college is still a long shot. Increasingly, schools are realizing that most of these students will not graduate without comprehensive support like the Kelly Autism Program at Western Kentucky. Similar programs have been taking root at nearly 40 colleges around the country, including large public institutions like Eastern Michigan University, California State University, Long Beach, the University of Connecticut and Rutgers.

For decades, universities have provided academic safety nets to students with physical disabilities and learning challenges like dyslexia. But students on the autism spectrum need a web of support that is far more nuanced and complex.

Their presence on campus can be jarring. Mr. Gardner will unloose monologues — unfiltered, gale-force and repetitive — that can set professors’ teeth on edge and lead classmates to snicker. When agitated, another student in Western Kentucky’s program calms himself by pacing, flapping his hands, then facing a corner, bumping his head four times and muttering. One young woman, lost on her way to class and not knowing how to ask for directions, had a full-blown panic attack, shaking and sobbing violently.


Brendan Cason, right, working on engineering homework with Ian Zaleski, left, a tutor, mentor and fellow participant in Western Kentucky University’s Kelly Autism Program. CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

Autism affects the brain’s early development of social and communication skills. A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder can encompass an array of people, from the moderately impaired and intellectually nimble like Mr. Gardner, a junior majoring in biochemistry, to adults with the cognitive ability of 4-year-olds. Until 2013, students who could meet college admission criteria would most likely have received a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, which has since been absorbed into autism spectrum disorder.

The social challenges of people on the spectrum can impede their likelihood of thriving not only in college, but also after graduation. Counselors in programs like Western Kentucky’s not only coach students who struggle to read social cues, but also serve as advocates when misreadings go terribly awry, such as not recognizing the rebuff of a sexual advance.

When a professor complains about a student who interrupts lectures with a harangue, Michelle Elkins, who directs the Western Kentucky program, will retort: “I am not excusing his behavior. I am explaining his brain function.”

Breaking the Ice

At suppertime, the dining hall at Western Kentucky’s student union is crowded, clamorous and brightly lit. Students in the Kelly program, who often have sensory hypersensitivities as well as social discomfort, usually prefer eating alone in their rooms.

But one night this fall, some gathered for a weekly dinner with peer mentors — students hired by the program to be tutors and social guides. The Kelly students tentatively approached a meeting place in the lobby. As they recognized their mentors among the milling crowd, relief flooded their faces.

The meal began awkwardly. One Kelly student buried himself in a textbook. Another gazed around the dining hall, humming.

Gradually, the mentors drew them out. How was your day? Have you tried any clubs? Jacob, a freshman from Tennessee who is in a Chinese immersion curriculum and asked that his last name not be used to protect his family’s privacy, said he had joined the French, Spanish and German clubs.

Share Your Story about Being a College Student with Autism

Have you or a family member received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and attended college? If so, we would like to learn more about your experiences.

“When do you sleep?” I inquired with a smile.

A few mentors laughed appreciatively. Jacob looked puzzled. “I don’t get the humor in that question,” he said.

When the topic shifted to a social event coming up at the center — a video game party — conversational buy-in was guaranteed. Even so, as various games were suggested, the dinner table exchanges were more proclamation than conversation:

“In my opinion, Pokémon Go is a stupid idea,” Mr. Gardner shouted.

Ms. Elkins fixed him with a look. “Good you added, ‘in my opinion,’ Crosby,” she said.

The autism program’s home, a matter-of-fact clinical education building at the edge of the university, is a peaceful, dimly lit haven from the churning campus. The 45 undergraduates in the program spend three hours a day here, four days a week.

They study, meeting with tutors, and confer with counselors and a psychologist to review myriad mystifying daily encounters. The counselors maintain ties with dorm supervisors, professors and the career center, mediating misunderstandings.

By 2019, the program, which started with three students a little over a decade ago, anticipates being able to admit 77 students. Like most such programs on other campuses, it charges a fee; W.K.U.’s is $5,000 a semester, much of which may be covered by federal vocational rehabilitation funds.

In addition to shoring up academic and organizational skills, the program aims to ease students into the social flow of campus. This year, group discussions will tackle topics that include sex and dating.

Some of these students have enough self-awareness to feel the excruciating loneliness of exclusion. “One student told me, ‘I was so excited about college because I hear you don’t get bullied there, and I don’t know what that’s like,’” said Sarah McMaine-Render, the program’s manager.


Kaley Miller cutting metal for an owl sculpture in an art studio at Western Kentucky University.CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

Others remain relatively oblivious to the social world surging around them.

Impulse control is an issue for many of these students: They will stand up and abruptly leave class. Some need reminders about basic hygiene. Because having a roommate can be unnerving, most have single rooms in the dorms.

But they all have the requisite academic ability: Before applying to the support program, they must be admitted by the university. Some are exceptionally bright. “I have a 4.0 G.P.A. but David leaves me behind in the dust,” Liz Ramey, 19, a student mentor, said of David Merdian, a Kelly sophomore who studies mathematical economics with a concentration in actuarial science.

With the program’s help, some of the students, most of whom are male, can enter the four-year university directly from high school. Others first try community college. After Kaley Miller graduated from high school, relatives, who did not believe she could live independently, put her in a group home and then a residential home with elderly adults, where she spent her days doing factory piecework. Finally, at a psychiatrist’s suggestion, Ms. Miller’s parents decided to let her try a college that provided support for students on the spectrum.

When she moved into a W.K.U. dorm, Ms. Miller, 24, a junior and a meticulous art student, reacted in wonderment. “There were so many people my age and everyone was so normal,” she said.

Out of the Shadows

In 2012, Andy Arnold, who was given an autism spectrum diagnosis as a child, enrolled as a freshman at Western Kentucky.

“It was terrifying,” he recalled. “I was anxious and went off my meds. I’d forget to shower and brush my teeth. I would do rituals, like walking around outside the dorm. I kept grabbing at the back of my neck.

“I started skipping classes. I didn’t really know how to study, so I fell behind quickly. I ate too much. I behaved irrationally to people.”


Ryan Hodges, right, joined fellow students and participants in Western Kentucky University’s Kelly Autism Program during a Friday night video game social event back in September. CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

He dropped out.

He lived at home, taking online courses for a few years, then reapplied to W.K.U. Now 23, he is back at school — and this time, he is in the autism support program.

“I feel less panicky,” Mr. Arnold said. “I like getting to know people here at the center. We have something in common.”

It is hard to know how many students with autism attend four-year schools. A 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics found that about 50,000 teenagers with the diagnosis turn 18 each year and 34.7 percent attend college. Without support, though, few graduate.

That is in part because many students with an autism diagnosis do not step forward, fearing stigma. Some experts speculate that for every college student on the spectrum who identifies himself or herself with a diagnosis, there may be two more who are undisclosed.

But as the growth of the so-called neurodiversity movement prompts people on the spectrum to define themselves as different but not deficient, more students are emerging from the shadows. The Bridges to Adelphi program at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., serves about 100 students with autism. At the University of Texas in Dallas, 450 students with the diagnosis have registered for services with the Student AccessAbility office.

Their presence on campuses is also a testament to the tenacity of familiesand disability advocates who, since the 1990s, when awareness of autism began to mushroom, have pressed for earlier diagnoses and interventions. Much of that battle unfolded in public secondary schools, leading to more services.

Over the last decade, officials at mainstream universities began realizing that growing numbers of spectrum students were being admitted — and, like Mr. Arnold, were foundering.


Jacob, left, and Cameron exiting Walmart with purchases, following a trip connected to their participation in the Kelly Autism Program. CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

It was one thing for administrators to authorize accommodations like extra time on tests for students with dyslexia or attention deficit disorder. But how should they bolster students whose behavior was the primary expression of the disability — who could not stop shouting out answers in class and feared dorm showers?

And so the new autism support programs vary in emphasis. Some are based in disability resource centers, while others are in mental health offices, focusing on social skills and anxiety reduction.

“Our mission is to help them transition into the university, be successful here, and then transition out of the university to be successful in adult life,” said Pamela Lubbers, who directs one of the country’s most structured, coordinated programs, with 17 students, at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

Ms. Lubbers meets weekly with students, working them through a standardized “to do” checklist to help them identify small-step tasks to feel less overwhelmed, review their goals (“Describe the best social interactions you had this week”), and problem-solve. (“You think you left your I.D. on the campus bus. What steps will you take to find or replace it?”)

But even with support, these students often need extra time to graduate. Indeed, many do not make it that far. Some crumble under academic and organizational stress. Others succumb to campus allures like alcohol and drugs.

And others are expelled on sexual harassment grounds. They are so eager to fit in that they may, for example, comply with the demands of a bully who says, “ ‘I’ll be your friend and go to dinner with you every night next week if you kiss that girl,’” said Jane Thierfeld Brown, who consults with families and colleges about supporting students on the spectrum.

But with support, there are also those, like Ryan Hodges, who surpass expectations.

Mr. Hodges received his diagnosis at age 4. “In high school did we know he’d go to college? No,” said his father, Jeff, a Nashville businessman. “Did we hope? Yes.”


Jacob after a shopping exercise at Walmart. CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

They set their sights on W.K.U. because of the program. Now 23, Ryan has grown immeasurably in social confidence, his father said, and is on track to graduate at the end of this semester.

Whether they are prepared for the next transition remains an open question. Most programs do not keep tabs on their students after graduation.

Despite the career coaching offered for Kelly students, some still cannot present themselves well in job interviews. Living at home again, unemployed, they may regress.

“The goal is not necessarily a college degree but becoming an independent, successful adult,” Dr. Brown said. “And a bachelor’s degree doesn’t guarantee that.”

Still, many graduates from Western Kentucky’s program are employed. Mrs. McMaine-Render, who stays in touch with some through social media, mentions one who works in film, others in technology, some in retail, and another who is applying for graduate school in physics.

What about their social lives?

Mrs. McMaine-Render paused and looked at her lap. “Sometimes I’m too scared to ask,” she said.

The Supercenter Challenge

Always with an eye toward life after college, the program encourages students to learn practical skills.


Crosby J. Gardner, on his way to the video-game social event in late September.CreditMark Makela for The New York Times

Hence Western Kentucky’s weekly trip to Walmart.

One recent Friday afternoon, Mrs. McMaine-Render drove seven students in the program’s van, which resounded with cheerful non sequiturs.

“I don’t mean to be rude but could you not talk now?” one student told another. “Your voice is very loud in my head!”

Mrs. McMaine-Render pulled into the parking lot and nudged the students out of the van. They ambled toward the store, blithely indifferent to incessantly roaming cars. Then she waved and drove off, leaving them to tackle the Walmart Supercenter on their own.

In a frenzy, the group scattered. Some boys barreled up and down aisles, flinging items at random into their clattering shopping carts. Essentials: Twix. Strawberry Twizzlers. Doughnuts. Frosted cookies. Six-packs of Coke. Slippers. Napkins. Pokémon cards. More Pokémon cards.

One boy decided he wanted to reheat chicken wings in his dorm. He needed a baking tin. But that meant locating the cookware aisle. Which meant finding an employee, then asking for directions. Scary!

Checking out was another challenge. For the students’ entire lives, their purchases had been paid for by adults. Now they were peering at register totals, fumbling for credit cards, swiping and swiping, then attempting the chip system, one way and then the other, forgetting PINs. Over all, they did just fine.

They reassembled outside, sweating and smiling, surrounded by the fruits of their considerable shopping labors.

Ms. Ramey, the student mentor, picked them up. On the drive back to school, the students toggled between yakking about their shopping victories and falling silent, drained. Ms. Ramey pulled up to their dorms, one by one.

One by one, they unloaded their bags and, without so much as a “thank you” or even “goodbye,” set off.

“Have a good weekend!” she kept prompting.

Startled, each boy looked back at the car, bewildered. Another missed social cue?

Oh, right! Jolted, some remembered to smile, and even to wave farewell.


ELT Informational Trainings for SSC

BPS and the BTU have jointly agreed to extend the school day for all schedule
A schools in three cohorts.

The SSC plays an integral part of the decision-making process and planning
of the extended school day. This informational training will prepare parents,
and School Site Council members for the decisions to be made ahead.

SSC members at these schools are strongly encouraged to attend.

This training is also open to all other schedule A schools.
Please register your SSC to attend any of these trainings at


Roxbury/Jamaica Plain
Dec. 1, 2016
5:30-7:30 pm
Martin Luther King Jr. K-8 School
77 Lawrence Street
Dorchester, MA 02124


Dec. 5, 2016
5:30-7:30 pm
Murphy K-8 School
1 Worrell Street
Dorchester, MA 02122


East Boston
Dec. 7, 2016
5:30-7:30 pm
McKay K-8 School
122 Cottage Street
East Boston, MA 02128


West Roxbury/Roslindale
Dec. 8, 2016
5:30-7:30 pm
Phineas Bates Elementary School
426 Beech Street
Roslindale, MA 02131


South Boston/South End
Dec. 13, 2016
5:30-7:30 pm
J.F. Condon Elementary School
200 D Street
South Boston, MA 02127


Dec. 15, 2016
5:30-7:30 pm
Thomas A. Edison K-8 School
60 Glenmont Road
 Brighton, MA 02135


Dinner will be served and childcare is available upon request.
You may select any of these trainings regardless of your
school’s location. Please direct any further questions to
Shanika Houlder-White at

Continue reading


Boston City Councils Committee On Education – Thursday, March 17, 2016 6pm

Councilor Pressley has requested a hearing to review and discuss the FY17 BPS Special Education Budget and to identify solutions to ensure equitable transition services for BPS youth.

Hearing Notice

Date: Thursday, March 17th
Time: 6 PM
Location: Boston City Hall, 5th Floor, Iannella Chamber

Participants: Dr. Karla Estrada, Cindie Neilson, Boston SpedPac, and MA Advocates for Children

Parents are welcome to attend and speak.


BPS Special Meeting – Basic Rights and the IEP Process


Special Education
Informational Session
for Families

This session will focus on providing information
to the Chinese Speaking Community

Josiah Quincy Elementary
885 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02111

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
6:00 PM – 7:30 PM

Topics include:
Basic Special Education Rights
and IEP process

Questions/Concerns will be addressed at the end of the session.

Please join us!

Any questions, please call Cindie Neilson
(Interim Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Special Education)
at 617-635-8599.

Flyers – English   –   Mandarin


100-Day Plan – Listen & Learn Session – Nov 19, 2015 – Advanced Work Classes, Mass Core

Here is all of the detailed info for this General Meeting.

BPS is providing opportunities for all families – students with special needs and those in regular education – to give their feedback on the proposed expansion of Advanced Work Classes and BPS Graduation Requirements as recommended by Mass Core.

In its 100-Day Plan, under the direction of new superintendent, Dr. Tommy Chang, the District identifies core values that will guide its work of based on input from students, families, staff, community members and partners.  The 100-Day plan kicked off on September 8, 2015, and the District continues to listen and learn about what schools are doing well and what needs to be done to better support all students.  Parent, family and caregiver input will drive this process in obtaining key information for BPS’s
Three-Year Plan which will be unveiled in September 2016.

Child care and interpretation services will be available, please request by Nov. 17.

Please RSVP by calling TaWonia Watkins at (617) 635-7750

Mass Core Excerpt regarding Special Education
What are the implications for students with disabilities?
Studies show that students are more likely to pass high-level than low-level high school courses, including students receiving special education services. However, some high school special needs students will require extra support to meet more rigorous high school expectations.  There are no waiver provisions for particular disabilities for MassCore completion, however schools and districts should pay special attention to a student’s individualized education program (IEP) and transition plan to ensure that students are enrolled in appropriate coursework.

Full Details, Links and Info:
BPS Flyer 100-Day_Plan_Parents_SpeakUp_Flier_FINAL
SpedPac Flyer BPS_spedpac_flyer_Nov-19-2015_w_SPanish_AWC_MassCore
Mass Core Files:
Q & A – masscore_q&a_Oct-2015
Report – MassCore_Report_91714_FINAL
Presentation – graduation_requirements_2016
Excel – gradrequirements_2016_MassCore



B-SET – Boston Special Education Transition – RESOURCE FAIR Sat. 10/24/15 and Plan

Resource Fair and Action Plan Release

Saturday, October 24, 2015
10:00 am – 12:00 Noon

State Street Corporation Channel Center
1 Iron Street • Boston, MA 02210


Flyer: PDF

Inclusive Employment and Career for Boston Youth with Disabilities: Pathways to the Talent Pipeline

Workforce Development Task Force
Boston Special Education Transition Project (B-SET)
Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC)

Saturday, October 24, 2015
10:00 am – 10:45 am

10:45 am – 12:00 Noon


  • Dr. Tommy Chang Boston Public Schools superintendent
  • Richard Curtis VP of Workforce Development and Talent Acquisition, State Street Corporation
  • Brian Doherty General Agent/Secretary Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District
  • Ron Marlow Undersecretary for Workforce Development at the MA Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development
  • Jerry Mogul MAC executive director
  • Oswald “Oz” Mondejar Senior VP Mission and Advocacy, Partners Continuing Care and member of US Department of Labor Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive, Integrated Employ­ment for People with Disabilities
  • Alice Moore Undersecretary of the MA Executive Office of Health and Human Services
  • Trinh Nguyen Director, Mayor’s Office of Workforce Development


Plan Files:


Roche Adaptive Skating Program – R.A.S.P.

Roche Adaptive Skating Program-R.A.S.P.


Flyer: Roche_Adaptive_Skating_Program_Welcome_Letter_Update

Dear Parents and Skaters;

Welcome to the Roche Adaptive Skating Program (R.A.S.P.)  The goal of this program is to introduce children with adaptive disabilities to the wonderful world of ice skating and/or beginner hockey fundamentals.  The weekly skating session provides a structured (and sometimes unstructured) environment where children can participate in on-ice activities designed to promote skating, friendship and fun while learning the fundamentals of skating/hockey.  Each participant will be engaged in activities that will enhance their skating experience while promoting the values of team work and promoting individual growth.

Wednesdays; 4pm-5pm Jim Roche Ice Arena 

1275 VFW Parkway West Roxbury, MA 02132 

Program Dates:  – 09/23/2015 to 11/18/2015  


  • The Roche Adaptive Skating Program is for Boston residents (proof of residency required) ages 4 and up with disabilities.
  • All skaters must register at the BCYF Roche Community Center. Parents will need to complete all required forms prior to their children getting on the ice.
  • All skaters will need to provide their own transportation to and from the rink.
  • All children and their siblings must wear a helmet, gloves, ice skates
    or trax (non-skid footwear). No one will be allowed on the ice with sneakers, shoes or boots.  NO EXCEPTIONS!!


Roche Family Community Center
(617) 635-5066
Coordinator: Lauren Hurley


On Ice Coordinators:

Nick McCummings
p.617-543-1433 f. 508-283-3293

Anthony Forgione


MassHealth: NEW Coverage – Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)


MassHealth: NEW Coverage
Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
for Children with Disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder
September 15, 2015

Files: AACMassHealthFactSheet9-16-15Final PDF

 Update from MAC’s Autism Center and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

A new state law requires MassHealth to cover medically necessary treatments for low-income children with autism spectrum disorder.

  • In addition to insurance coverage for ABA services the new law expands MassHealth coverage for medically necessary Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. In the past, MassHealth covered AAC devices but did not cover electronic tablets, such as iPads, used for AAC.
    MassHealth now covers electronic tablets dedicated to use as AAC, along with related software, when medically necessary for communication.
  •  Coverage of dedicated tablets is available now for children and youth under age 21 who require medically necessary AAC including children with autism.MassHealth is in the process of updating its regulations to provide coverage for adults, which will make the devices available to everyone for whom it is medicallynecessary.


Q. What is AAC – Augmentative and Alternative Communication?

 Augmentative and Alternative Communication, also known as AAC, is a term used to describe various methods of communication that supplement or replace oral speech for people who are unable to use oral speech alone to communicate. Children with autism or any other type of disability that makes it difficult for them to communicate may benefit from AAC. Many different AAC methods are used by people of all ages with a range of disabilities.

MassHealth will cover electronic tablets that have been configured primarily for dedicated use as an AAC device, based on the recommendations of the speech pathologist and prescription. Use of the device to text and e-mail can be covered.


Q.     What are the steps required to obtain an electronic tablet dedicated to AAC?

  •  An AAC device is considered Durable Medical Equipment. For members enrolled in a managed care entity (MCE), the tablet will be provided through the MCE based on the procedures of the MCE.
  • For members enrolled in the Primary Care Clinician Plan or in MassHealth secondary to private insurance, it will be authorized directly by MassHealth.


The following steps are required by current MassHealth regulations. They require the patient’s primary care clinician, a speech and language pathologist, and a durable medical equipment supplier to work together, utilizing the same MassHealth process already established for covering other kinds of AAC devices.

  1. Get a referral from the patient’s primary care clinician for an evaluation by a licensed speech and language pathologist (SLP) who is a MassHealth provider.
  2. Obtain an evaluation by the speech and language pathologist. If AAC is needed, the SLP will recommend the AAC device and a treatment plan.
  3. Obtain a prescription for the recommended device and a diagnosis of a severe communication disorder from the primary care clinician (physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner).
  4. The speech and language pathologist will recommend a MassHealth approved durable medical equipment (DME) provider. The DME provider will request prior authorization from MassHealth and will provide the AAC device and software after MassHealth approves the request.
  5. If MassHealth denies the request, the patient will be notified and can appeal to an impartial hearing officer.
  6. All recommended configurations to the tablet will be made by the manufacturer and/or DME provider before the device is provided to the member.
  7. When the member or guardian (or the SLP) signs the delivery ticket for receipt of the tablet, they will confirm that the device will be used for communication only, and not, for example, for games or as a music player. Use of the device to text and email can be covered.


Q.  What types of primary MassHealth insurance cover electronic tablets used for AAC?

 Children under the age of 21 who are covered by MassHealth Standard and CommonHealth are entitled to medically necessary AAC devices, including electronic tablets dedicated to use for AAC.


Q.  What is the process if I have MassHealth as secondary insurance?

If your private primary insurance provider covers electronic tablets used for AAC, you must first seek benefits under your primary plan. If you obtain a tablet through your primary insurance and have MassHealth as secondary insurance, MassHealth may cover the related co-pays and deductibles.


Q.  What if my primary insurance does not cover electronic tablets used for AAC?

If a speech and language pathologist recommends an AAC device that your primary insurance does not cover and you have MassHealth as secondary insurance, you must meet MassHealth medical necessity, prior authorization, and other guidelines for MassHealth coverage of the device. See steps for MassHealth coverage above.


Q.  Where can I get an electronic tablet approved by MassHealth?

Several of MassHealth’s current durable medical equipment providers can supply electronic tablets. Your speech and language pathologist will be able to connect you with a provider where you can obtain your device.


Q.  Are speech applications (“apps”) or related software for electronic tablets covered?

Yes. MassHealth covers medically necessary AAC software, applications, and related equipment, as long as prior authorization is provided consistent with the steps for coverage outlined above.


Q.  Who can I call for more information?

MassHealth Customer Service: (1-800-841-2900)



Q.  How is MassHealth going to determine “medical necessity” for coverage of electronic tablets used for AAC?

Recommendations for electronic tablets must meet the current medical necessity rules in the MassHealth regulations at 130 CMR § 409.428 and additional medical necessity guidelines specific to tablets, such as the requirement that the device be configured to limit the primary use to AAC.


Q.  Are there new Prior Authorization procedures for providers?

No. The same procedures MassHealth now uses to authorize AAC devices will apply to electronic tablets configured as AAC devices. For members in the PCC plan or FFS (fee for service), the prescription, letter of medical necessity, and additional supporting clinical information will be submitted with the prior authorization request through the Provider Online Service Center (POSC) or by completing a MassHealth Prior Authorization Request form (PA-1) and attaching the documentation. Providers who work with MCEs will need to follow the MCE’s prior authorization process.


Q. Are there new codes for the DME providers of electronic tablets configured as AAC devices?

 MassHealth codes for electronic tablets used for AAC are the same as current AAC codes, with modifiers.


Q.  Who can I contact for more information?

MassHealth Customer Service: (1-800-841-2900) or



New Parent Checklist Empowers Families

New Parent Checklist Empowers Families

As a parent of two children in public schools, I appreciate how often I get updates on how they’re doing in school—sometimes as often as once a week! But it often leaves me wondering how my kids are stacking up against other kids their age in the district, state and country. And even as an employee at the Department of Education, I’m not always sure what questions I should be asking.


This is why I’m excited about a new parent checklist we’re releasing today in collaboration with America Achieves, National Council of La Raza, National PTA, and the United Negro College Fund. The parent checklist includes questions and resources that parents and caregivers can use to help ensure their children are getting the education they deserve. The checklist suggests key questions, tips for educational success and resources for more information.

The checklist follows the set of rights that the Department recently releasedoutlining what families should be able to expect for their children’s education. The rights follow the educational journey of a student—from access to quality preschool; to engagement in safe, well-resourced elementary and secondary schools that hold all students to high standards; to access to an affordable, quality college degree.

The checklist suggests these “key questions” that parents should pose to their child’s educators, including:

Quality: Is my child getting a great education?

  • How will you keep me informed about how my child is doing on a regular basis? How can we work together if my child falls behind?
  • Is my child on grade level, and on track to be ready for college and a career? How do I know?

Ready for Success: Will my child be prepared to succeed in whatever comes next?

  • How will you measure my child’s progress and ability in subjects including reading, math, science, the arts, social and emotional development, and other activities?
  • How much time will my child spend preparing for and taking state and district tests? How will my child’s teacher and I know how to use the results to help my child make progress?

Safe and Healthy: Is my child safe and cared for at school?

  • What programs are in place to ensure that the school is a safe, nurturing and positive environment? What are the discipline and bullying policies at the school?
  • Are the meals and snacks provided healthy? How much time is there for recess and/or exercise?

Great Teachers: Is my child engaged and learning every day?

  • How do I know my child’s teachers are effective?
  • How much time do teachers get to collaborate with one another?
  • What kind of professional development is available to teachers here?

Equity and Fairness: Does my child, and every child at my child’s school or program, have the opportunity to succeed and be treated fairly?

  • How does the school make sure that all students are treated fairly? (For example, are there any differences in suspension/expulsion rates by race or gender?)
  • Does the school offer all students access to the classes they need to prepare them for success, including English language learners and students with special needs (for example, Algebra I and II, gifted and talented classes, science labs, AP or IB classes, art, music)?

Check out the checklist for yourself.

Cameron Brenchley is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications at the U.S. Department of Education


HOPe – House of Possibilities at Stonehill College – Community Outings, Overnight Respite

Are you looking for community outings or overnight respite?
Please check out the HOPe website and the HOPe children’s programs.

House of Possibilities

HOPe – House of Possibilities at Stonehill College
350 Washington St.  Easton, MA 02356
Office: 508-205-0555
Links:  WebsiteChildrens Calendar
HOPe is a first class facility with proven highest standards of care.   Situated on Stonehill College’s campus provides exceptional opportunities that focus on person-centered, lifestyle-enrichment programs for each child and adult we serve.

A list of children’s programs for August 2015:


8.1.2015 – Adventure Club
Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Patriots Training Camp, Foxboro Register >



8.1.2015 – Overnight Respite for Boys
Time: 4:00PM – 12:00PM (next day) Register >



8.7.2015 – HOPe Club
Time: 5:00PM – 9:00PM Register >



8.8.2015 – Overnight Respite for Girls
Time: 4:00PM – 12:00PM (next day) Register >



8.14.2015 – HOPe Club
Time: 5:00PM – 9:00PM Register >



8.15.2015 – Adventure Club
Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Boston Duck Tours Register >



8.15.2015 – Overnight Respite for Boys
Time: 4:00PM – 12:00PM (next day) Register >



8.17.2015 Camp HOPe
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm or 5:00pm
Cliff Walk, Newport, RI Register >



8.18.2015 Camp HOPe
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm or 5:00pm
Southwicks Zoo Register >



8.19.2015 Camp HOPe
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm or 5:00pm
Kings Bowling Register >



8.20.2015 Camp HOPe
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm or 5:00pm
George’s Island Register >



8.21.2015 Camp HOPe
Time: 9:00am-4:00pm or 5:00pm
Kimball Farm Register >



8.29.2015 – Adventure Club
Time: 10:00AM – 4:00PM
Breezy Picnic and Waterslide Register >



8.29.2015 – Overnight Respite for Girls
Time: 4:00PM – 12:00PM (next day) Register >


MassHealth: NEW Coverage – Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Services for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)


MassHealth: NEW Coverage of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Services for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) July 27, 2015
Update from MAC’s Autism Center and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
A new state law requires Mass Health to cover medically necessary ABA services for children with autism under age 21.
ABA services are now available to Mass Health members. The frequently ask questions explain how to get coverage now and after October (when the process will change) for members who have Mass Health either as their primary or secondary insurance.

File:  FAQ_MASSHealth_ABA_July_2015


High School Redesign for Students with Disabilities – Tuesday, 6/23/15 – 6:30-8:00pm – Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester

What do High Schools of the Future Look Like for Students with Disabilities?

High School Redesign: Boston

The Mayor’s Office of Education and BPS seek your input into what 21st Century high schools should look like to ensure that every student graduates prepared for college, career, and life.

Please join us and share your recommendations!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
6:30 pm to 8:00 pm

Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester
1135 Dorchester Avenue
Dorchester, MA 02125

Hosted by

Boys & Girls Club of Dorchester &

Supported by


Want to participate in the conversation?
Visit to learn more and submit your recommendations for high schools of the future at




Charter schools to pool resources for Special Education and ELL


Charter schools across Massachusetts, which critics accuse of dodging a public duty to teach students with disabilities or language barriers, are stepping up their efforts to educate those students through a new statewide collaborative that will enable the institutions to share staff, training, and programs.

The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association is launching the collaborative with a $2 million federal grant it received last month. The association says the collaborative will allow charter schools to create economies of scale that, in turn, should result in more robust educational experiences for special-education students and those who speak limited English.

Many charter schools, which often serve just a few hundred students, experience difficulties sustaining programs because of fluctuations in enrollment, said Janine Matho, the association’s chief of policy and practice.

“At single-site schools, their programs grow and shrink depending on the needs of the students enrolled at the school,” Matho said.

One common problem charter schools frequently face is finding a speech therapist who can work two days a week with a small number of students, she said. But by creating the collaborative, charter schools could join forces to hire a shared full-time speech therapist.

The collaborative is taking root as many charter and traditional schools have been struggling to educate these two student populations. In Boston, the US departments of education and justice recently conducted a compliance review that found thousands of English-language learners in the city’s school system may be receiving insufficient specialized services or none at all.

Boston school leaders appear increasingly concerned the federal agencies might pursue litigation to force compliance. Last month, the school system appointed an attorney who specializes in compliance to oversee its program for English-language learners, while the School Committee discussed the compliance review in an executive session under the pretense of “litigation strategy.”

Education advocates, who have been critical of charter schools, said they were unsure whether the new charter-school collaborative could lead to better opportunities for students.

“The numbers tell the story,” said Roger Rice of Multicultural Education, Training & Advocacy Inc., a Somerville-based organization that works on behalf of linguistic minorities. “At least in Boston, charter schools do not take English-language learners in nearly the proportion of the Boston Public Schools, and they typically don’t take English-language learners with little command of English.”

But he added, “Any effort that pays attention to a long-neglected obligation to serve these kids equally I’m in favor of.”

Created under the 1993 Education Reform Act, charter schools are intended to be laboratories of educational innovation. The state’s 81 schools operate under looser state regulations than traditional schools, are rarely unionized, and almost always operate independently of local school systems.

Many charter schools have among the highest MCAS scores, but some struggle academically.

Critics of charter schools, including many teacher unions and superintendents, accuse charter schools of artificially inflating their success by forcing out students who are difficult to teach, such as those with disabilities or a language barrier — allegations that charter schools deny.

But enrollment of the two student populations at many charter schools has been lower than the enrollment rates of the same populations in the traditional schools in their communities. Consequently, a change in state law in 2010 required charter schools to step up their recruitment efforts of such students, which has lead to some increases in their enrollment at many schools.

According to the most recent state data, 8.7 percent of students enrolled in charter schools statewide during the last school year lacked fluency in English, up from 4.4 percent in the 2009-10 school year. Similarly, 13.6 percent of students in charter schools last year had disabilities, up from 11.8 percent in 2009-10.

Wide disparities continue to exist, though, between charter schools in urban areas and their respective school districts, especially in enrolling students with language barriers.

While many specifics of the new collaborative are being worked out, the charter-school association said many charter schools have programs in place that could likely be replicated or provide training opportunities for staff from other schools.

Match Community Day Charter School in Boston has achieved significant success in teaching English-language learners, who make up more than 80 percent of the school’s enrollment, by tapping a variety of strategies, such as intensive tutoring. On last spring’s MCAS, 55 percent of the school’s third-graders scored advanced and proficient in reading, and 88 percent scored in those two categories in math.

Charter school leaders said they look forward to the opportunity to work more closely with each other.

“We work hard to serve those students,” said Shannah Varon, executive director of the Boston Collegiate Charter School.

James Vaznis can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.


FACElab at Emerson College

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a disorder of social communication and even individuals with strong language skills and high intelligence have significant problems with non-verbal communication, which often leave them socially isolated.  Many of these problems are based on difficulties reading non-verbal cues of others, or producing facial and vocal expressions that are interpreted as awkward by their peers. At the FACElab, we hope to learn more about how children with ASD perceive and produce non-verbal expressions and how their expressions are perceived by others.

Questions? Thoughts?  Would you like to help us by participating or volunteering in the lab?  Contact us.  We would love to hear from you!


Phone: (617) 824-8710
Physical Location: 8 Park Plaza Boston, MA 02116

Mailing Address:
Ruth B. Grossman
Emerson College
120 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116




Autism, All Grown Up – NPR The Takeaway & Scientific American

The Takeaway

Autism, All Grown Up
Tuesday, February 03, 2015


Listen to the story (Time-8:24)

Download the MP3 –  The Takeaway: Autism Grows Up

There are several programs designed for young autistic people that are designed to support them while their growing up. But what happens after? What happens when someone on the spectrum leaves home to go to college or get a job?

Those some of the difficult questions Ondine Grosser and her family had to answer when she graduated high school.

Ondine is autistic and she was able to access services that helped her succeed in high school, where she got consistently high grades. But when she graduated and those services disappeared, navigating life became a lot more complicated. After just one semester of college, Ondine flunked out and withdrew.

Jennifer Richler is a science writer and clinical psychologist. She recently wrote about Ondine’s story and some of the new services emerging for young adults with autism.

Ondine and her mother, Amira Acre, also join The Takeaway. They discuss Ondine’s current success after enrolling with a rare program called, ASPIRE, where Ondine receives tailored support that helps high-functioning adults with autism better navigate the job market and the world around them.

Aspire –

Scientific American

Autism Grows Up
New programs are helping ease the transition to adulthood for people on the spectrum
Dec 18, 2014 |By Jennifer Richler

In Brief
Easing into Adulthood

  • Many people with autism struggle with the transition from high school to independent adulthood. Public support systems are often not available for those without intellectual disabilities.
  • Private programs such as Boston-based Aspire are filling the gap, supporting adults with autism as they enter college or the workforce.
  • These programs allow adults on the spectrum to socialize with peers while they practice social skills, learn to be more self-aware and develop techniques for managing stress.

More In This Article

Ondine has autism. Even though she had always struggled with making friends, she did well in high school, earning good grades. Her school district offered support services for students with developmental disorders, and with that assistance she successfully enrolled in a local college. Yet when those supports disappeared after graduation, “she basically fell apart,” says her mother, Amira. A month into her freshman year of college, Ondine stopped going to classes and completing assignments; eventually she stopped leaving her dorm room altogether. Forced to drop out and move back home, Amira says that her daughter “didn’t leave her room for 23 hours a day.”Ondine’s story is not unusual. Many parents liken the experience of their child with autism leaving high school to “falling off a cliff.” In many states, young adults with special needs are entitled to school-related support services until age 21 or 22, but after that it is up to them and their parents to find and qualify for services to help them navigate adult life. Until recently, those services barely existed for a growing segment of the population: high-functioning adults with autism. Studies show this group is underemployed compared with people with more severe cognitive disabilities, and surveys find they are often unhappy and lonely. Their unique combination of normal or high intelligence and deficits in social understanding puts these young adults in a frustrating position: many have the same goals as their typically developing peers but struggle to achieve them.

Clinicians, researchers and educators have recognized the problem, and in the past few years programs have sprung up around the country to serve this neglected group. Ondine is currently enrolled in an internship program at one of the most well-established of these programs—Aspire, based at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)—and she now works part-time and enjoys socializing with her co-workers. “For her to be getting out, talking to people, taking public transit … is such a huge transition,” Amira says. As the prevalence of autism continues to rise and more and more people with the diagnosis enter adulthood, Aspire and other programs like it hope to ease that transition, bridging the gap as autism grows up.

Smart and Struggling
The autism spectrum covers a wide range of symptoms, but everyone with the diagnosis has one thing in common: difficulty with social interaction. For the young adults served by programs such as Aspire, this deficit manifests in a variety of ways. They may have trouble identifying other people’s emotions, discerning appropriate conversation topics and public behavior, and recognizing or understanding their own feelings and needs.

These impediments often make it tough for adults on the spectrum to get jobs and keep them. A study published in 2012 found that only 55 percent of adults with autism had held any kind of paid employment in the six years since graduating from high school. Adults with other kinds of difficulties, including speech or language disorders, learning disabilities and even intellectual disability, had much higher rates of employment, suggesting that the low rates among adults with autism cannot be explained solely by the fact that they have a disabling disorder. The researchers concluded that young adults with autism are “uniquely at high risk for a period of struggling to find ways to participate in work and school after leaving high school.”

According to Paul Shattuck, now a psychology professor at Drexel University and lead author on the study, this situation exists partly because support services were set up around the needs of people with intellectual deficits and have not evolved much over time. “If you have an IQ [in the average range] and you’re quirky and have difficulty with social interactions, it’s very hard to get help,” he says. This description fits many of the adults whom Aspire serves. Although the label “Asperger’s syndrome” is no longer included in the DSM-5, psychiatry’s manual of mental disorders, many of Aspire’s clients have this label or identify as such; others say that they have “high-functioning autism” or “PDD,” which refers to pervasive developmental disorder, another term that is no longer in the DSM but connotes a relatively high level of ability.

Even when these adults can find work, it is often on a volunteer or part-time basis. A different study found that only 27 of the 48 young adults in their sample had ever been employed in the years since high school, and of those only one was able to support himself.

Enter Aspire and other programs like it. Aspire launched about 12 years ago, when it split off from YouthCare, a larger program that serves children with a range of mental health issues. Aspire’s executive director Scott McLeod, a clinical psychologist, explains that rates of autism diagnosis had soared, and YouthCare was inundated with children on the spectrum. The directors decided that they needed a program focused exclusively on autism.

Ultimately, says program director Dot Lucci, a school psychologist, the goal is to address what Aspire staff call the three Ss: self-awareness, social competency and stress management. Many of the people in Aspire’s programs are very bright, she says, “but if you’re not self-aware and socially competent and if you’re unable to handle your stress, all your smarts in the world are not going to help you. You’re not going to be able to get a job, keep a job or be in a relationship.”

People Who Need People
A fair-skinned, dark-haired 19-year-old named Matt stands in the center of a circle, surrounded by his peers, who are seated in folding chairs. “I need to make some money quick. What should I do?” he asks.

“Steal all the gold from Fort Knox … or rob a bank in Paris!” Dan exclaims.

“Work 24-hour shifts for the rest of your life,” Nick suggests.

“Sell your arms and legs,” Jae offers. He gets big laughs.

These young adults with autism are playing an improvisation game called Bad Advice. The person at the center of the circle presents a problem to be solved, and everyone else tries to come up with the worst possible suggestion. Aside from being a fun icebreaker, the game orients the group to the concept of social “dos and don’ts”; thinking about how not to behave in social situations implicitly reminds everyone how they should behave.

So begins another session of Aspire’s Saturday Excursions group. For most clients, the gatherings provide a sorely needed social outlet. Although people with autism are often thought of as aloof and uninterested in socializing, for many the opposite is true. A University of Missouri study of adults with autism published last April revealed that many suffer from loneliness and isolation, which often lead to depression and anxiety. The loneliness may be acute: a national study of teens with autism published in 2011 found that more than half had not gotten together with a friend in the previous year. And when another set of researchers asked parents of adults with autism about their children’s unmet needs, they cited social interaction as a major area. Adults on the spectrum crave social interaction but do not know how to get it.

The excursions group gives these young adults the chance not only to enjoy one another’s company but to practice skills they find difficult, including what people in the field call “activities of daily living”—tasks such as organizing an outing and managing time and money. After the improv game and before the group heads out into the windy early spring afternoon, Aspire staff members remind everyone that this week they will be seeing a movie downtown. They review the schedule for the day, check the subway route to the movie theater, and distribute wallets with preloaded debit cards and subway cards. On the way to and from the theater, there is plenty of time to practice another essential skill: conversation. Dan, a young man with closely cropped hair and sunglasses, asks for everyone’s birthday so he can read out their horoscopes from an app on his smartphone.

Today’s outing goes smoothly, and afterward everyone gathers to discuss the “highs and lows” of the trip. (The consensus: seeing The Lego Movie was a high; walking against the wind was a low.) But there are occasional mishaps. On a trip to the Navy Yard with a different group, one of the members, tired from walking around, lay down to rest on a bed onboard a ship. These sticky situations are opportunities to discuss appropriate social behavior—for example, sometimes it is necessary to act differently in public than in private.

Aspire conducts most of its interventions in a group setting, rather than working individually with clients. “Working one-to-one with thoughtful, caring adults—those aren’t challenging situations,” McLeod observes. “We think that the group is a far more powerful place to learn skills.” At the same time, the groups feel safer and more predictable than other social situations, he adds, so clients become less anxious, allowing them to practice skills they otherwise would not. “The reason a social skill may not be exhibited is usually far more complicated than the fact that they just don’t have the skill,” he says. Often other issues—anxiety, difficulty taking others’ perspectives or simply not understanding the purpose of a certain social behavior—get in the way. That is why Aspire avoids simply drilling skills into its clients, an approach that, according to McLeod, “has failed pretty miserably.”

Studies on how to best help adults with autism learn and practice social skills are few and far between, so Aspire’s programs draw from a number of evidence-based approaches in psychology. Advisers emphasize clients’ strengths while giving positive and negative feedback, a technique based on principles from the field of positive psychology. They encourage clients to think about the thoughts and feelings underlying others’ behavior as well as their own, a central tenet of cognitive-behavior therapy. “The premise is, you can learn social skills like turn taking, but if you have no idea why you’re doing them, it’s a veneer. If you get in an unfamiliar situation, it falls apart,” Lucci explains. “It’s about why we do what we do.”

On the Job
Alex sits at a conference table next to his supervisor, Kevin Heffernan. He is nearing the end of his 14-week internship in the Corporate Real Estate division of Liberty Mutual, a position he got through Aspire’s internship program, which places young adults with autism at sites around Boston and provides them with mentorship and support. Alex is thrilled with his experience. “It’s given me a reason to wake up,” he says. It has also taught him essential job skills, including how to make pivot tables in Excel, an accomplishment in which he takes considerable pride, judging from the shy smile that spreads across his face when he mentions it.

Heffernan says that once Alex finishes his internship, he can apply for positions at the company and has a good shot of getting one. “The sky’s the limit for this kid,” he says, beaming. It is not just Alex’s work skills that have impressed him—it is also the way he interacts with his colleagues. Before Alex started, Heffernan was warned that he was shy and anxious in social situations. “My radar was on,” Heffernan admits. But with time, Alex became comfortable with his co-workers. “He’s fitting in just fine, thank you,” Heffernan says.

The research on job-training programs for people with autism, though preliminary, suggests it should be possible to help more adults on the spectrum succeed as Alex has. For example, in a clinical trial of the Project SEARCH High School Transition Program, which serves adults with autism at dozens of sites across the U.S., participants completed a nine-month internship program embedded in a large community business, such as a hospital, rotating through different jobs and learning practical skills, such as using public transportation to get to work. They also received individualized support from autism specialists. The control group received standard services provided by the school district. The results were encouraging: of the 24 adults who had an internship, 21 acquired employment after the program, compared with only one of 16 in the control group, and the difference was sustained three months later. Perhaps even more important, those in internships gained independence over time—that is, they required fewer supports—which was not true of those in the control group.

Many other programs for adults with autism around the country also focus on employment or continuing education. For example, the College Internship Program, with sites in Indiana, California, Massachusetts and New York, is geared to college students on the autism spectrum who do not have an intellectual disability. It provides mentorship, group social activities and internship opportunities. Aspire also offers services for the college-bound, including a “boot camp” the summer before freshman year, in which students develop practical skills for life on campus. Once at college, they can enroll in Aspire’s mentoring program, in which they are paired with a typically developing student on campus, who helps them get acquainted with key services and resources and provides them with ongoing support.

For those who do have an intellectual disability, programs such as Next Steps at Vanderbilt University allow students to take classes alongside peers, learn vocational and social skills, and earn a certificate after two years. Project SEARCH also serves adults with significant intellectual or developmental disabilities. Given the enormous variability in functioning among those with autism, this specialization makes sense: it is hard to help everyone on the spectrum when there is so much heterogeneity within it. Specializing also helps programs secure funding—most are underwritten by private philanthropic donations, which allow them to offer financial aid to clients’ families. McLeod reports that nobody has ever been turned away from Aspire because of an inability to pay.

All these programs not only help adults with autism get jobs, they also support them so that they succeed at those jobs—which often requires navigating delicate situations. One of Aspire’s interns became distressed, for example, after meeting a co-worker of a different ethnicity, loudly telling her supervisor that she could not work with that person because she had once had a negative experience with someone of that ethnicity.

These situations can be uncomfortable, but McLeod sees them as opportunities for adults with autism to learn in real time and in real life, where it matters most. In fact, “bringing interventions into the life space,” as he puts it, is key to Aspire’s approach. “One of the main challenges for folks on the spectrum is the transfer and generalization of skills,” he says. A concept such as taking another’s perspective can make sense in the therapist’s office, he explains, but can be incredibly challenging to implement in daily life.

Looking Forward
Ondine sits in a small group of young men and women at a table in a meeting room, waiting for the weekly internship seminar to begin. She chats with a brunette with an easy smile named Nicole as others busily check their smartphones. A bulletin board on the wall has a sign that reads, “I Aspire To …” with construction paper stars affixed to it, on which clients have written goals that range from the fantastic to the mundane: “Be a Nascar driver”; “Show up to work 5 minutes before the scheduled time”; “Ask others about their interests.” Bretton Mulder, a clinical psychologist and director of Aspire’s teen and young adult services, starts today’s session by asking the interns how things have been going in their first couple of weeks on the job. Ondine laments that it took her two hours to get her security badge at MGH, where she is working in materials management. Others mention traffic troubles and connecting with co-workers over music. After checking in with everyone, Mulder leads the group in a discussion of how to distinguish between on- and off-topic comments when in a meeting and why it is important to avoid judging co-workers based on features such as appearance and level of education.

During the discussion, Nicole occasionally interrupts her peers but immediately catches herself. She clamps one hand over her mouth and gently waves the other in the speaker’s direction, as if to say, “Oops … go on.” The self-awareness Nicole is demonstrating is often challenging for those with autism, McLeod says. “What goes along with the perspective-taking deficit of autism is that sometimes it’s hard to know who you are,” he explains. To help uncover their identities, adults at Aspire and in other programs are encouraged to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, thoughts and feelings. This process often leads them to important realizations: “I’m a bright person who’s overreactive to certain sensory stimulation,” McLeod gives as an example. Aspire’s clients are encouraged to share these relevant aspects of their personalities with people they meet or work with; doing so usually allows them to be accepted and understood more quickly.

If self-awareness is the mental foundation and applied social skills are the practical component, the often overlooked but crucial third factor in helping adults on the spectrum succeed is stress management. Many programs, including Aspire, help their clients learn techniques such as mindfulness and yoga. So far the preliminary data indicate that with these three pillars of support, many adults with autism can join the workforce and eventually leave behind the programs that helped them get there. Autism’s prevalence continues to increase, however; according to 2010 estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 68 children has autism, up 30 percent from figures reported in 2008. Recent research suggests that a major reason for this surge is more frequent diagnosis of precisely the people Aspire serves—those who are more cognitively able.

Although Aspire does not yet have outcome measures, survey data suggest clients and their families are highly satisfied. For some, such as Ondine, the programs have been a kind of life raft. Her internship at MGH might not be her dream job —“anyone can do it,” she tells her peers matter-of-factly during the internship seminar—but she sees it as a major step toward her long-term goal of being a paramedic. Perhaps more important, Amira says the program staff make her daughter feel “respected and admired for who she is. These people see all the possibilities and potential she has.”

As a result, Ondine’s outlook has changed dramatically. “It used to be that she said she has no future,” her mother says. “Now she’s talking about a future.”