* Understanding Autism

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Autism is a spectrum disorder with a wide range of characteristics ranging from mild to severe. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) demonstrate difficulties in three major areas: social interaction, communication, and behavior. The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5 ) published in 2013 redefined the criteria for which ASD is diagnosed. This guidance document explains these changes to the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ‌.


  Social Interactions:  A person with ASD might have difficulties in relating to people and demonstrating social reciprocity. There is impairment in peer relations and social interactions. The individual might have limited interest in such relations or may seek interaction in unusual ways. The use and understanding of nonverbal forms of communication might be limited. Emotional expression and regulation are greatly restricted.  The capacity to play in an age appropriate or functional manner might be absent or delayed.  There might be an inability to engage in imaginative activities.


Communication:   Many aspects of the communication process are imparied for a person with ASD.  Understanding others' verbal and nonverbal language and communicative attempts
(receptive language) might be a challenge.  Unuse of communication (expressive language) is limited in function and/or frequency.  Verbal language might be altogether absent.  If present, the style and comminicative patterns will likely be atypical and can include echolalia, unusual vocal intonations and/or difficulties with volume.  The use of communication might be repetivite, restricted, or used only to get desires met. Vocabulary and word use might be limited or used inappropriately.


  Restricted, Repetitive, and Sterotypical Patterns of Behavior: The individual with ASD often exhibits stereotyped and repetitive movements with his or her body or objects. There might be great distress over changes and insistence on following routines. The individual might have an extreme preoccupation with or attachment to an object or topic of interest. Play or leisure activities are likely repetitive and restricted. 



How can I explain autism to others?

The T/TAC at VCU in collaboration with other T/TACs across the state have developed a user-friendly brochure that you can give to other teachers, parents, or community members to better explain autism and some simple strategies for working with this special population.


 What You Need to Know About Me: A Student with Autism



Guidance Documents

The Virginia Department of Education has developed guidance manuals to help educators, administrors, and parents working to improve services for students with ASD.



Guidelines for Educating Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders                                   Models of Best Practice in the Education of Students with Autism Spectrum Disord                     Autism Sprectrum Disorders and the Transition to Adulthood   

The Infant & Toddler Connection of Virginia has also developed a guidance document for working with families with young children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,



Supporting Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Their Families


Paraprofessional Training Standards

House Bill 325 (Massie), passed by the 2012 General Assembly, requires each school board, by September 1, 2014, to ensure that aides assigned to work with a teacher who has primary oversight of students with autism spectrum disorders receive training in student behavioral management within 60 days of assignment to such responsibility. In 2013 the Virginia Department of Education adopted training standards that are available to school divisions. The document Training Standards for Paraprofessionals Assigned to Work with a Teacher Who Has Primary Oversight of Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders describes a broad set of competencies needed by paraprofessionals who work with students with autism.

Download the Paraprofessional Training Standards.

Powerpoint Presentations

These are PowerPoint presentations (with voice over) that include activities to increase your knowledge and understanding of:

Disclaimer: Please note that the above PowerPoint presentations are not in accessible format but may be useful for professional development activities.

Personal Perspectives

Adults with autism have written about autism from their own personal perspectives. If you are interested in learning more about these individuals follow these links:

VDOE Training and Technical Assistance Center @ Virginia Commonwealth University Partnership for People with Disabilities | School of Education Region 1: 700 E. Franklin St. - Suite 140, Richmond, VA 23284 (804) 828-6947 Region 8: Pickett Park, 440 QM Circle, Blackstone, VA 23824 (434) 292-3723 Copyright © 2008 VCU Training and Technical Assistance Center
VCU Virginia Department of Education Partnership for people with disabilities Bobby Blackboard Browse Aloud