Autism Model School (AMS)

The Autism Model School is a nonprofit community school located in Toledo, Ohio. The school was established in 1998 by a group of parents with one thing in common which is a child with autism. In the first years, the school, which was located at Arrowhead Park in Maumee, was called M.O.D.E.L. Community School. The size was four classrooms composed of 30 children ages 5 to 12.

As the years progressed, the school responded to the needs of parents and the community by expanding to two buildings and serving individuals ages 5 to 22. Currently, the school serves over 100 students and employs over 70 full-time staff.

The Autism Model School utilizes the science of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) as a foundation for developing language and communication skills, adaptive behavior, social and leisure skills, fine and gross motor development, activities of daily living and independent living, learner readiness skills, traditional academics, and community participation and job-readiness. They offer a transition program for students ages 14 and up who have an autism spectrum disorder in order to help prepare them for transitioning to adulthood.

In collaboration with parents, the Autism Model School offers innovative programming that takes into account the individual needs of each student. This approach requires a continuum of services and environments–from the most restrictive to transitioning to a regular education classroom.

As a public community school, there is no fee to attend the school. Parents are strongly encouraged to pay a once-a-year school fee, provide reinforcements for students and contribute to the classroom, if able to do so. The school is year-round and offers a summer session with the same hours, days and programming as the rest of the year.

The school, in partnership with parents and the community, provide a nurturing environment and develop the full potential of differently-abled students within the Autistic Spectrum Disorders using a multidisciplinary approach addressing individual needs.

They believe that the only appropriate education is effective education. Parental involvement and participation are crucial in a child’s development. Because of that, they offer educational programs that hold accountable to produce outcomes that are socially valuable, functional, and acceptable.

They have a working relationship between school and home is critical to the success of a child’s education. If the child cannot learn by the way that they teach, then they must teach in a way the child can learn. Behavior in any form is communication for them.

Learning Environment

Educational and scientific research indicates the effectiveness (especially in the early grades) of highly structured, intensive teaching methods for students with autism. The school’s programming reflects these findings and it is based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Techniques include visual cueing systems, communication training and direct social skills instruction.

Individualized Approach

By working together with parents, the school provides a multifaceted approach to learning, addressing the needs of students on an individual level. These aspects taken into account include age, cognitive ability, the severity of behavioral symptoms and the need for structure. The classes they provide emphasize the development of skills in areas such as communication, self-help, independence, social motor, sensory integration, and cognitive skills.

Training and Development

The school places a strong emphasis on staff training and development. Research-based training, with measurable outcomes, is used to equip staff in fulfilling the school’s mission of developing the full potential of their students.

The Staff

At the Autism Model School, they believe that every student has star power. A special ability to push through difficulties on the path to reaching personal goals. And while a unique set of challenges faces each student, the blueprint for success is universal–the right people using the right tools in a supportive environment.

Behind every star student, there is a dedicated team. From caregivers to intervention specialists to paraprofessionals to van drivers to board members, there is always a group of people working together to help each student shine bright.

Staff Members receive quality training so they are prepared to best serve each student. This training includes 40 hours of autism-specific online coursework, nonviolent crisis intervention training, and first aid/CPR certification. Having the right people means having the right expertise for the unique needs of students with developmental disabilities.

School Board Members oversee all aspects of the Autism Model School. Each board member has expertise in various fields ranging from finance to educational administration to law. The majority of board members are related to a person on the spectrum.

The Tool

The school is on a mission to use evidence-based practices and proven to teach programs as the standard in the education of students with an autism spectrum disorder. The staff calls them the “right” tools because their effectiveness has been proven through peer-reviewed research. Programming includes direct instruction, autism curriculum encyclopedia, and practical assessment exploration system.

  • Direct Instruction – reading, writing, math, language, logic, and reasoning
  • Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia (ACE) – communication, social skills, self-help, discrimination, health, and safety
  • Practical Assessment Exploration System (PAES) – vocational work assessment and exploration, appropriate work behavior development

The Environment

They believe that everyone belongs. It is what motivates them to create a caring environment where students can learn, develop and grow. By maintaining an overall 1:2 staff-to-student ratio, the school is able to offer a high level of support and individualized teaching. The environment at Autism Model School is also enriched by special clubs and events.

One event is the community prom which is treasured by students, parents, and volunteers. Now it is approaching its 10th year. There are some more events such as Autism Awareness Breakfast, Students’ Family Picnic, and Dance Till U Shine Performances. Some of their extracurricular activities, held during the school day, including garden club, art club, and dance club.


IEP Development

Teachers seek parent input during all stages of drafting a student’s individualized education plan (IEP). This planning process leads up to and continues to take place during the IEP Team Meeting. If there are particular skills that parents feel should be prioritized in their children’s education, they are free to inform the teacher, who will work to include the skill or a pre-requisite skill in the student’s IEP.

IEP goals will target relevant gains in some or all of the language and communication of the following domain, adaptive behavior, social and leisure skills, fine and gross motor development, daily living activities, independent living skills, learner readiness skills, traditional academics, community participation, and job-readiness.

Each child with autism has specific individual needs that must be addressed. As such, no list of educational programs and approaches is intended to be completely comprehensive. Staff at the school work collaboratively, and with input from parents and other professionals, to ensure that each student has an individually tailored plan to address their most significant needs.

The school uses a variety of assessments in order to help inform and pinpoint the education needs of each student throughout the IEP process. Due to the wide developmental and age range of students, the school selects assessments on an individual basis.

ABA – Applied Behavior Analysis

Direct Instruction (DI)

Direct Instruction classes serve as the backbone of academic programming at the Autism Model School. Over 40 years of research on how students learn and the best ways to teach them have resulted in the development of these programs. Five points of the DI philosophy are described as;

  1. All children can be taught
  2. All children can improve academically and in their self-image
  3. All teachers can succeed if provided adequate training and materials
  4. Low performers and disadvantaged learners must be taught at a faster than normal rate if they are to catch up to their higher-performing peers
  5. All details of instruction must be controlled to minimize the chance of students’ misinterpreting the information being taught and to maximize the reinforcing effect of instruction

The school provides a highly structured DI curriculum in the areas of language and communication, reading decoding, reading comprehension, logic, reasoning, and writing, and math.

Computer-Based Instruction

Computer-based programs for individuals with autism have been proven effective by research. The school uses MimioSprout Reading, TeachTown Basics, and PLATO Courseware.


Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy services are delivered in a collaborative, consultative approach by working closely with all members of the Autism Model School team. The occupational therapist provides staff with training, assists with program development, monitors student progress and helps collect data to measure progress towards goals.

Areas of concern addressed by the occupational therapist may include but are not limited to motor development, self-care and hygiene skills, activities of daily living, play and leisure skills, health and wellness, and vocational skills. Behavioral approaches to learning are used and include: aspects of task analysis, forward and reverse chaining of skills, visual supports, systematic approaches to tasks, and prompt fading.

Speech and Language Therapy

The primary role of the speech-language pathologist is consultative in nature so that all staff members can be trained in delivering programming designed to facilitate speech and language development. The pathologist is also involved in the administration of individual student evaluations and collaborating with other specialists.

Areas of concern addressed by the speech-language pathologist may include but are not limited to requesting, vocabulary development, comprehension, vocal and speech Imitation, play skills, use and comprehension of Social Language.

The Verbal Behavior approach is the primary methodology used to teach students with autism spectrum disorder concepts of language use and comprehension. This approach relies on positive reinforcement, error-less teaching, and discrete trial training.

Transition Planning

Transition Services are important for developing the full potential of students. Transition Program provides a coordinated set of activities that are results-oriented with a focus on academic, functional achievement. The aim of Transition Programming is to provide students with pathways to post-graduate success.

Planning for Transition Services begins when students turn 14 years old. There are currently more than 50 students enrolled. While students vary greatly in their levels of vocational skills, some plans may include post-secondary education, integrated employment, vocational education, adult services, independent living, community participation, self-employment, day habilitation programs.

Aut-To-Be Partners

Aut-To-Be Partners is a comprehensive e-commerce job training program. The mission is to operate an effective, sustainable and replicable organization that provides meaningful work for individuals with autism, including those most severely affected. Aut-To-Be offers hands-on experience in 14 positions across four departments of an e-commerce enterprise.

Aut-To-Be Partners uses effective, evidence-based visuals–like step-by-step picture directions–to teach participants to work with more independence and less reliance on job coaches. The program provides a diverse mix of opportunities with varying degrees of difficulty and community interaction. The partnership is foundational to the success of this program. It is about coming together to create pathways to meaningful employment for individuals with autism.

College Credit Plus

The state of Ohio offers College Credit Plus to all Ohio students in grades 7-12. Ohio’s College Credit Plus can help you earn college and high school credits at the same time by taking college courses from community colleges or universities. The purpose of this program is to promote rigorous academic pursuits and to provide a wide variety of options to college-ready students.

Working at Autism Model School / Being an Employee

Staff members play a leading role in creating a caring place for students to learn and grow. Employee policies and procedures are in place to help further the school’s mission of developing the full potential of all students.

It is an awesome community filled with passion for the students. It is a great working environment and it feels like family. This place is passionate, meaningful, and helpful. They will help you succeed and help you learn.

Your breaks are paid, you earn 4 hours of sick time and 5 unpaid floater days but all your calamity days are paid since it is all year round. The job may be stressful at times but it is nice to feel supported by the crisis team. The students are so much fun! It is a hard job but the kids make it worth it. Once you see a kid figure out something you have been working on for months – you are hooked. They offer insurance and training to help understand your work better!

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