The ASD Nest Egg

strategies to support kids on the autism spectrum

Category: program development

Lessons About Inclusion from Nest (Part 2)

Lessons About Inclusion from Nest (Part 2)

by Lauren Hough Williams


In Part 1 of this series, you learned that:

  1. Inclusion works.
  2. The classroom is the therapeutic environment.
  3. School. is. school.

To read about each of these in depth, read  the “Lessons About Inclusion from Nest (Part 1)” post. Read about Lessons #4-6 below:

4. Training is essential.

Inquiries come into the ASD Nest Support Project website everyday from teachers saying, “I have a student with ASD in my classroom. What do I do?” Although autism is more present in mainstream culture, many educators still do not feel qualified to adequately support their students with autism.  New York State has taken steps to address this professional development gap, requiring that all candidates for a classroom teaching certificate in all areas of special education complete coursework or training on the “needs of children with autism.”. However, a three-hour training is not sufficient for educators looking to understand, support, and challenge their autistic students. Also, what about training for the paraprofessionals supporting students with ASD? What about the special area teachers in music and art? What about the school aides, security guards, and administrators who also interact with these students every day? 

ASD Nest professionals receive graduate-level preservice training in the basics of ASD as well as understanding behavior challenges. Too, they participate in on-going professional development on topics such as executive functioning, social development, child development, neurodiversity, and understanding context. Students with ASD have unique social, behavioral, academic, and sensory needs, and professionals supporting them should always be learning and refining their practice.

Are you a NYC DOE teacher looking for training on ASD? Sign up for one of our Autism Institutes HERE. Workshop A explores the basics of ASD and Workshop B delves more deeply into strategies. Each workshop is 2 days.


5. The expert is the team.

We have learned that there is no “i” in team. There is no one professional or discipline that has all of the answers. We need teachers, therapists, administrators, parents, and the students themselves thinking and working together to create comprehensive supports for our autistic students. In Nest, this collaboration comes in the form of weekly, inter-professional team meetings where all members of a students’ team meets to discuss how the student is doing, what needs to be changed, and how supports can be provided consistently across individuals and environments. We also encourage push-in by providers into the classroom whenever possible. When occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and social workers push into classrooms, students receive supports in their therapeutic classroom environment, and teachers get the added benefit of “live PD” as they can observe the therapists supporting their students therapeutically.


6. It takes a village.

Inclusion is is not a program or a classroom or a specific service or support. It is a mindset, belief, and practice that can lead to a sense of true belonging in our schools. It takes a whole-school approach which includes a committed and active administration, a sharing of best-practices between professionals, and a generalization of supports to avoid the “silo problem”

of academics happening only in the classroom, sensory supports happening only in OT, and language and communication supports only happening during speech. Schools need to work at all levels to create a sense of acceptance and belonging for all of it’s learners. Consider whole-school initiatives that support inclusion, such as “celebrating neurodiversity” or “everyone belongs.”

The ASD Nest Program and it’s model is growing and changing every day, and we do not have it all figured out. We will continue to challenge ourselves to think of new structures, supports, and approaches to help out schools and their students succeed. We will continue to focus on how to create the most inclusive, supporting environments we can in our schools, to help our students feel understood, supported, and, above all, happy.

To learn more about the ASD Nest Support Project, check out our website here.


Lessons About Inclusion From Nest (Part 1)

Lessons About Inclusion From Nest (Part 1)

by Lauren Hough Williams


The ASD Nest Support Project and its Nest Model have developed over the past 15 years after a “lightening strikes” realization on a Colorado road at the foot of the Rockies.  Dorothy Siegel, one of the founders of the ASD Nest Program, realized while reading Temple Grandin’s book, Thinking in Pictures, that there needed to be a fundamental shift in how we think about educating students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Pulling together a think tank of leaders in the NYC education space, this group began to outline an innovative model for inclusion where students with ASD were supported in their own, local, neighborhood schools.  This would happen in inclusive classrooms with trained professionals who work in inter-professional teams creating therapeutic classrooms where students with ASD could succeed alongside their neurotypical general education peers. This was the beginning of the ASD Nest Model.

Fifteen years later, the ASD Nest model is now in 43 school across all 5 boroughs in New York City and in 270 co-taught inclusive classes, supporting 1200 students with autism in kindergarten through 12th grade alongside over 4000 general education peers.  Co-teachers teach the general education curriculum, using specialized supports drawn from evidence-based and promising practices, helping students develop competence in their social and behavioral functioning, in order to ultimately realize their full, unique potential as independent and happy adults.

We have learned a lot in the past 15 years, and we continue to learn more about what it takes to build an inclusion program and create inclusive learning environments, where students with ASD can thrive.  Here are 6 lessons from Nest that we want to share with other schools and districts looking to build and improve their inclusive practices:

  1. Inclusion works

Research shows that both students with special needs, and their general education peers, benefit from learning in inclusive environments. Studies have shown that students with special needs in inclusive classrooms benefit academically, develop more positive peer relationships, and show decreases in problem behaviors.  General education peers in inclusion classes have also been shown to benefit both academically and socially, and also show an improved self-concept.  Want to learn more: check out this report presenting evidence for inclusive education. Also, check out Julie Causton’s WONDERFUL resources.


2. The classroom is the therapeutic environment.

Students spend the majority of their learning time at elementary school in their home classroom. Therefore, it is that environment that must provide the needed supports. We cannot rely on supports existing only at the other end of the hallway in the speech, occupational therapy, and AIS rooms. Too, we need to focus on providing class-wide supports. These universal supports are easier for teachers to implement consistently, they are accessible to all learners, and they do not single out individual students. Teachers should consider how to following supports can be implemented in their classrooms at a class-wide level:

  • Using a variety of co-teaching models for differentiation
  • Providing visual supports for routines, academic concepts, and directions
  • Incorporating sensory and self-regulation strategies (such as whole-class movement breaks using GoNoodle)
  • Using whole-class positive behavior supports
  • Incorporating student interests
  • and providing strategic social supports (like role cards for the different roles students could take on in a group activity: “timekeeper,” “materials manager,” “recorder,” and “talk/time tracker”).

Looking for more ideas, check out our Pinterest site which has examples of all kinds of whole-class supports.

3. School.  is.  social.

Student no longer learn in silent rows, plowing through workbook pages while teachers sit off to the side looking over their reading classes. Today’s student is asked to learn in a group on the rug, surrounded by classmates. Students constantly have to share space and air-time, not to mention their thoughts and opinions!  Group work is oftentimes the rule, rather than the exception, and students with social learning differences like ASD, who may not struggle with the academic content, can be tripped up by the social navigation demands of the activity. What we cannot do is assume that every student has what Michelle Garcia Winner terms a fully “social software package.”  Teachers need to consider the social demands of an activity, and not just the academic skill required. We cannot assume that every student can problem solve, ask for help, negotiate with peers, easily come to a consensus, change their plan on-the-go, and handle differences of opinion with peers. These “social skills” need to be acknowledged and explored explicitly for some students, so they they can successfully engage with their peers and succeed academically.

For more information on Social Thinking, read this.


Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!




This post is by special guest author Dolores Troy-Quinn.  

As a former principal of an ASD Nest school, I had the opportunity  to hire numerous staff members as the program expanded. In my twelve-year tenure as principal I interviewed hundreds of people. Hiring the right people was the most important job I had!  I learned one important trait of a good special educator.


2000px-Heart_corazónThe work of a teacher is incredibly hard. Working with special needs youngsters is extremely hard.  Not everyone who has a special education license is a true special educator. Dual certification (SE/GE) makes it difficult for hiring committees to tease out the person who has the “true heart of a special educator.”  I always asked teaching candidates, “Why special education?” I
wanted to delve into their intrinsic motivation to work with this population of students.  This question was meant to separate the true special educator from the teacher who was looking for a job-any job!  A true special educator is tenacious in his/her ability to keep looking for answers to support a student’s growth.  A person who does not have a special education “calling”, may become frustrated, and ultimately, blame the student for his/her inability to learn.  I found a compelling
why story important in my selection process.

I’m not suggesting that every teaching candidate have all the answers.  What I suggest is that a few well placed questions about a candidate’s motivation may help separate the true special educator from the person who has the license, but not necessarily, the heart of a special educator.  Finding this type of special educator will reap untold benefits not only for your special needs students, but all of your students.

What was the idea behind the ASD Nest Program, and what are its key elements?

New Nest w wordsBefore the advent of the ASD Nest program parents of autistic children in New York City had two choices: a District 75 school for children with severe disabilities, where basic curriculum took a back seat to therapeutic services; or a neighborhood school where teachers didn’t understand how to teach their children or children on the spectrum and where they struggled to integrate with their typically developing peers. These children were not integrated into their schools or communities and generally had poor outcomes. In 2002, then District 15 Superintendent Carmen Farina appointed a study group to answer the question “Why can’t children with autism who can do grade-level academic work be educated in their neighborhood schools?” A team of District 15 educators – along with Dorothy Siegel of NYU and Prof. Shirley Cohen of Hunter College – conceptualized a fully inclusive program in a neighborhood school that would provide what these children needed. The goal of the program was and is to help children with ASD learn how to function well academically, behaviorally, and socially in school and in their community. That goal was unusual because schools usually think of their mission as limited to providing academic instruction. The team understood the need to address the “whole child,” or these children wouldn’t succeed.

One key element of the ASD Nest elementary model is the Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classroom – in this case with only four autistic children and eight to sixteen general ed children, depending on the grade. The Nest co-teachers, as well as all other professionals who work with these children, are trained at Hunter College – and supported by the NYU ASD Nest Support team – on the implementation of evidence-based practices used in Nest. The ICT classroom is the core of the collaborative multidisciplinary approach Nest embraces.

The Department of Education provides three more key elements: six graduate credits of training at Hunter College on autism and strategies used in the Nest program. Second, they provide NYU with funding for continual support of educators through direct and indirect on-site consultation and professional development.Third, the DoE provides Nest schools with funding for collaborative multi-disciplinary weekly team meetings, attended by every Nest teacher and therapist. This is a powerful learning tool as staff develop plans for each Nest child that are consistent across every setting and at all times. Eventually, the Nest team in an experienced Nest school becomes VERY smart about what works with individual children with autism.

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