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Individuals with Autism Spectrum or Other Neurodevelopmental disorders often exhibit diverse forms of challenging behavior. It is crucial that these behaviors are not seen as willful or malicious; rather, they should be viewed as connected to the individual’s disability and treated as such by means of thoughtful, therapeutic, and educational strategies, rather than by simplistic and inconsistent punishment or other disciplinary measures that imply the assumption of deliberate misconduct. Specific problem-solving strategies, usually following a verbal rule, may be taught for handling the requirements of frequently occurring, troublesome situations (e.g., involving novelty, intense social demands, or frustration).

Many of our residents have been exposed to various forms of trauma, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and these experiences can often teach unhealthy patterns of behavior that persist through childhood and into adulthood. Trauma can take many forms: Emotional or physical abuse, environmental or emotional neglect, bullying or marginalization by peers, or exposure to violence or intense conflict are just a few adverse experiences that can occur in early childhood. When our residents admit to Norris Academy, our treatment team fully evaluates these ACEs through a trauma-competent lens so that we can use best practice approaches to overcoming traumatic experiences depending on the resident’s developmental level. Overcoming the impact of the trauma can often help alleviate some of a child’s symptoms and make challenging more manageable at home and in the community. For more information on Adverse Childhood Experiences, look here: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html.

At Norris Academy, the terms “early learners” and “advanced learners” are used to describe the ability status of our residents rather than the terms “low functioning” and “high functioning.” These terms are borrowed from the modality of Verbal Behavior, a subset of Applied Behavior Analysis. We serve residents diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual disabilities or other Neurodevelopmental disorders. Since the adoption of the DSM-V in 2014, focus has been on Neurodevelopmental diagnoses as a cluster of disorders.

Early Learners:

At Norris Academy, our Early Learners typically fit the following profile:
Social communication – Early learners present with severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal communication skills that cause severe impairments in functioning. There is very limited initiation of social interactions and minimal response to social overtures from others.

Restricted interests & repetitive behaviors – With early learners, preoccupations, fixated rituals and/or repetitive behaviors markedly interfere with functioning in all spheres. There is marked distress when rituals or routines are interrupted. These individuals are very difficult to redirect from fixated interest or returns to it quickly.

These individuals typically require assistance with activities of daily living and may require 1:1 supervision.

Advanced Learners:

Advanced learners typically fit the following profiles:
Social communication – Advanced learners present with two different levels of social communication functioning. One level requires substantial support with marked deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills. There are social impairments apparent even with supports in place, limited initiation of social interactions and reduced or abnormal response to social overtures from others. Another level requires support and, without supports in place, deficits in social communication cause noticeable impairments. The individual has difficulty initiating social interactions and demonstrates clear examples of atypical or unsuccessful responses to social overtures of others. These individuals may appear to have decreased interest in social interactions.

Restricted Interests & Repetitive Behaviors – Advanced learners can present with two different levels of pervasiveness with rituals and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) and/or preoccupations or fixated interests. One level requires substantial support where the RRBs and/or preoccupations or fixated interests appear frequently enough to be obvious to the casual observer and interfere with functioning in a variety of contexts. Distress or frustration is apparent when RRB’s are interrupted. These individuals are difficult to redirect from fixated interest. Another level requires support in that the rituals and repetitive behaviors (RRB’s) cause significant interference with functioning in one or more contexts. The individual may resist attempts by others to interrupt RRB’s or to be redirected from fixated interest.
These individuals need some or no assistance with activities of daily living and will be supervised at a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio.