Watson Staff Present at Annual Special Education Conference

At the Watson Institute, professional development is a key component to our organizational culture. Staff are encouraged to explore professional opportunities such as research studies, professional presentations and attendance at industry or job-related conferences. This past March, Watson Institute staff represented the organization at the PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) Bureau of Special Education Annual Conference in Hershey, PA.

The Watson Institute was granted three entries to the poster session on innovative practices in education. Staff from the Education Center Sewickley, Education Center South, and WISCA (Watson Institute Social Center for Academic Achievement) program shared their expertise on a variety of topics in special education and educating students with special needs.

Behavior Solutions for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Representing the WISCA program, Jennifer Do (Behavior Specialist), Carley Carney (Social Worker), and Samantha Rutledge (Behavior Aide) shared their poster project titled, “Restorative School Practices with ASD Students”.

In their study, they researched how to use creative discipline and repairing processes when students with Autism Spectrum Disorder exhibited disruptive behaviors. Their findings in this project showed that using a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) which includes therapeutic coaching, support, and processing time for students after an incident decreased the occurrence of behavioral incidents in the WISCA program.

Students have also become more engaged in the aftermath of the incident, acknowledging their behavior and taking steps to correct and apologize for the inappropriate actions. Students have also been motivated to serve as peer mentors and are working to be proactive instead of reactive to situations that may upset them.

Kara Laus, a Behavior Aide at the Watson Institute Education Center, also presented at the poster session. She shared her project titled, “Structuring Access to Tangibles to Decrease Behavior Problems” in which she shared how she worked with classroom staff to create a behavior plan for a student who was expressing aggressive behaviors and had little to no engagement in daily classroom tasks and activities. This behavior plan sought to decrease incidences of aggressive behaviors using reinforcing items for the student such as preferred activities or snack items.

The student was given choices throughout the day of activities she would complete in order to earn her preferred item. The student was empowered to choose the item/activity she’d like to work for as well as the tasks she’d complete to earn that item. As Ms. Laus and the classroom staff put the plan into place, they made modifications along the way as they discovered parts of the plan that worked and parts that were unsuccessful with the student.

Overall, her findings indicated that giving the student choices and ways to earn preferred items did decrease the number of aggressive behaviors the student exhibited throughout the school week.

Communication Development in Students with Special Needs

The final Watson staff presentation was provided by Jackie Logan and Emily Hartford, both Speech Language Therapists at the Watson Institute Education Centers. Their poster, “Core Vocabulary: Developing a Cohesive Program to Support Complex Learners” focused on the importance of collaboration across disciplines (teachers, aides, behavior specialists, occupation therapists, etc.) to create successful communication systems for students with complex learning and communication needs.

Ms. Logan and Ms. Hartford learned through their research that core vocabulary is being used consistently by staff at the Watson Institute and they were also able to identify challenges or barriers to more frequent integration of core vocabulary lessons into daily activities with students.

Each of the special education staff members from Watson were able to present their findings and discuss their research with attendees at the PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education) Bureau of Special Education Annual Conference in Hershey. This provided them an opportunity to field questions and learn perspectives from other educators in the field.

Learn more about what it’s like to work at the Watson Institute and how we provide professional development opportunities for special education staff year-round. Don’t forget to LIKE us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with the latest news and happenings from our special education schools and programs!