Collaborative Connections



The scope of today’s comprehensive school counseling program is one that is preventative in design and developmental in nature, in order to ensure that all students achieve success in school. The school counselor, a trained educator with expertise in child and adolescent development, is a vital component of the learning community. They provide a continuum of support for children with and without special needs. Through the years, partnership between the school counselor and the special education team has been exemplified during reauthorization legislation supporting special education to include: implementation of the IDEA of 1990, in which an added obligation of the IEP team was provided to address students’ transition to postsecondary activities (Milsom, A., Goodnough, G., & Akos, P., 2007).

Also, recent addition of the counselor as a related service provider within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, provides for increased contribution and support of the school counselor within the IEP realm. Moreover, IDEA of 2004 further expands upon the transition activities relative to the IEP team obligations by requiring the team to identify students’ future goals and the types of services, including course work, which would help students achieve their goals (Milsom et al.).

Today’s schools are supporting an ever-growing number of students identified with ASD. With statistics demonstrating this trajectory to include the prevalence of children identified with an ASD, in the year 2000, at about 1 in 150 children to an increase, only 12 years later, to about 1 in 68 children identified with an ASD. (CDC, 3/31/2016), school counselors are called upon to support ever more students identified on the autism spectrum. The school counselor’s knowledge and expertise relative to the social/emotional realm, as well as their leadership and communication skills, are vital assets to the team in support of the student identified with ASD. The university preparation programs, for the school counselor, typically provide for understanding of diverse populations, to include students with special needs. Though the preparation program does not typically provide a heavy focus specific to autism training, counselors do possess a broad range of developmental and social understanding in support of students, educators, and parents. Through collaboration and consultation, school counselors offer substantial potentiating effect toward comprehensive design and implementation of strategies to support students with ASD, in order to increase self-management of behaviors in the domain areas of academic, career and personal/social, with an emphasis on academic success for all students.

School counselors are trained to understand that behavior is communicative in nature. In order to utilize their interpretive skill relative to underlying behaviors associated with the characteristics of autism, the ABC Iceberg (ABC-I) strategy, a tool adapted from the iceberg metaphor by Eric Schopler (1994), founder of Division TEACCH, in the early 1970’s, will lend guidance in thoughtful discovery relative to support of the student on the spectrum, (cited from, 2012).

Based upon Schopler’s iceberg tool, the top of the iceberg represents the visible aspects of the student’s behavior to include the antecedent, behavior, and consequence (ABC). The unseen bottom mass of the iceberg, below the ocean’s surface, represents a core feature of autism that contributes to the manifested behavior. Through an increased understanding of the characteristics of ASD, today’s school counselor is provided with insight essential to develop and design comprehensive  interventions to support the students within the least restrictive environment (LRE).

A brief overview of the three core deficits, which are demonstrated at various intensities within each individual with ASD, points to a continuum of underlying characteristics that often set in motion a consultation with the school counselor in a quest to support the student. These three core deficits include social, communication, and sensory hurdles. For many, the core deficits of ASD interfere with the ability to work cooperatively with other students (Eldar, E., Talmor, R., & Wolf-Zukerman, T., 2010). The first core deficit, social impairment, can manifest across a range of behaviors from being a social loner to acquiring social skills that are rigid and inflexible. Next, the communication impairment may be demonstrated as one in which receptive or expressive channels are impacted. The range may be demonstrated as an apparent lack of ability or desire to speak or, conversely, excessive speech with poor reciprocal conversation skills. Impairment in pragmatic abilities, also known as social language, is an area in which Kaitlynn Glaze, Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) within the Snowline Joint Unified School District in Southern California, relates is a natural area for collaboration between the SLP and the school counselor. Pragmatics include such behaviors as eye contact or eye gaze, voice modulation, use and understanding of gestures, nonverbal body and facial expressions, literal interpretation of others’ comments and actions, or echolalia. Additionally, Theory of Mind (TOM), which influences insight into others’ actions and perspectives, has the ability to impact social language. Due to impairments in communication, social areas of imagination, play, or leisure may appear disconnected or inappropriate to the time or place. Lastly, sensory development hurdles may lead to restricted interests and stereotypic behavior. This may manifest as repetitive motor actions such as hand flapping, finger flicking, spinning and lining up objects. Further, the student may demonstrate fascinations in mechanical and cognitive themes, such as perseveration upon sprinkler systems or trains. Along with the appearance of the behaviors exhibited
from the sensory impairments, the sensory manifestation of resistance to change in routine, may also be impactful within the social realm of the student with ASD. Through greater understanding of underlying characteristics of Autism Spectrum Disorder, coupled with modified therapies, to include Evidence Based Practices (EBP) and collaboration with IEP team members, today’s school counselor is an essential piece of the puzzle toward provision of care and services to our students with ASD. Intervention, as early as appropriate,has the potential to enable our students with ASD to become engaged members of our learning community and, therefore, transition into productive and motivated young adults upon graduation from high school.•


Collaborative connections are supported through communication and continued learning. The reciprocal chain of support is enriched through sharing the lens with other professionals within the learning community to include the general education teacher, as well as the specialists within our district or on our campus. Discovery of our local resources is a positive step toward providing a comprehensive counseling program:

Special Education Teacher

Special Education Teacher (SPED Teacher) is a great initial point of contact for the school counselor. SPED teachers provided specialized academic instruction within a continuum of services models.  Additionally, they provide consultation and collaboration to include utilization of evidence-based practices (EBP). The SPED teacher can direct the counselor toward the appropriate related service provider relative the particular focus area of the student. Consultation with the SPED teacher has the potential to yield recommendations of academic and social accommodations utilizing evidence-based practices (EBP) that supply visual supports, visual closure systems, social narratives, video modeling, social scenarios, and prompting. Additionally, the SPED teacher can provide review of behavior support plans (BSP), IEPs and/or research or websites that provide overview of ASD and EBP. The SPED teacher is in daily contact with numerous of folks connected to the student to include family, general education teacher, related service providers, classified school staff, and administrators.

Speech Language Pathologist

Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) can provide consultation/collaboration regarding core deficits associated with a student with ASD to include social and communication hurdles. In addition to the technical aspects of speech production, the SLP addresses verbal and non-verbal communication needs with regard to social communication, aka pragmatics. Some areas of expertise, overlapping with the SPED teacher’s focus, include social narratives and social scenarios. Often, the SPED teacher and SLP work in a coordinated effort relative to academic and behavioral needs of a student with ASD. The addition of the school counselor offers a meaningful and enriched perspective to this team and, most importantly, to the student.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapist (OT) consultation/collaboration opportunities related to core deficit of sensory impairment is the area of focus for the O.T. The school-based OT provides support toward academic achievement and social participation through school routines within the classroom, cafeteria, and on the playground. Planning is supported through EBP that cross the professional strands of SPED teachers and SLPs to include visual schedules, visual closure systems, prompting, and kinesthetic modes. Coordination of calming exercises and/or exercises for sensory seeking can add valuable tools to the counselor’s tool box in support of students on the spectrum. The occupation of school participation and learning is what the OT’s services are all about, dovetailing appropriately with the role that the School Counselor signifies relative to student support.

Students on the Autism Spectrum often miss the subtle social cues, known as pragmatics, that are essential to positive personal interactions. If a student’s tip of the iceberg behavior is demonstrated as a student with great math skills, but inability to collaborate in class during math assignments due to underlying pragmatic difficulties, a strategy that can scaffold the student would be to practice playing games (commercial board games or educator created games), with specific behaviors identified, modeled, and practiced. Connect with SPED Teacher, gen ed teacher, SLP, and/or O.T. to determine appropriate activities.

A TURN FOR THE BETTER: Number Roll Game (above) and Tic Tac Toe 3 Products in a Row (below) are teacher created and based upon evidence-based practice (EBP) of structured teaching, an visual-based autism intervention philosophy developed by the University of North Carolina, Division TEACHH.

Angela Shaw, a Specialized Academic Instructor, values the efforts of all in support of launching each life-long learner, especially when the learner is one with special needs. She earned Masters’ degrees in special education and in school counseling, from Azusa Pacific University and holds a Certificate in Autism from Cal State San Bernardino. Angela’s publishing focus is upon students with special needs in support of families and educational caregivers, in order to further collaborative relationships.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Retrieved April 16, 2016, from
Eldar, E., Talmor, R., & Wolf-Zukerman, T., (2010). Successes and difficulties in the individual inclusion of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the eyes of their coordinators [Electronic version].
International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14(1), 97-114. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from
Graetz, J. E. & Spampinato, K. (2008). Asperger’s syndrome and the voyage through high school: Not the final frontier [Electronic version]. Journal of College Admission, 198, 19-24. Retrieved March 6, 2011 from http://www/
Milsom, A., Goodnough, G., & Akos, P. (2007). School counselor contributions to the individualized education program (IEP) process [Electronic version]. Preventing School Failure, 52(1), 19-24. Retrieved March 20, 2011, http://www/
Presenter’s Guide: Functional Behavior Assessment Relevance for ASD (2012). Retrieved April 18, 2016, from

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