Our Approach to Academics

At Shrub Oak, we meet students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at their individual cognitive level in core academics such as math, science, English, and social studies.

We offer a varied curriculum, grounded in evidence-based principles for teaching students with ASD, with options designed to meet each student’s individual goals. Tailored to the characteristics and needs of each student, our academic program adapts to the constantly evolving needs of children, adolescents, and young adults on the autism spectrum.

Individualized Curriculum

Our teachers are experts at working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder as well as with students with related disorders including Nonverbal Learning Disability; Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder; and ADHD. We also work with students dually diagnosed with ASD and visual and hearing impairments. Our classroom student to staff ratio is 2:1, and classes are capped at eight students. This allows for highly individualized and personal instruction.

Transdisciplinary Approach

The hallmark of our program is our unique transdisciplinary approach. When a student begins their journey at Shrub Oak, they are assigned a team comprised of teachers, clinicians, and campus life staff. In concert with the student and family, the student’s team creates an Individualized Transdisciplinary Education Plan (ITEP) to determine appropriate goals for each student. At the end of each and every school day, the student’s team meets to review the student’s progress toward those goals, to celebrate accomplishments, and make adjustments as necessary. At Shrub Oak, we never expect a student to adapt to our approach; we adapt our approaches to meet our students’ needs.

Clinical Approach

Of utmost importance is respect for every student’s abilities, interests, and preferences; with sensitivity to sensory, communication, social/emotional, academic, and cognitive challenges. An integral component of our program focuses on developing competency in self-determination and self-advocacy. Critical skills for transitioning ASD students into adulthood, such as executive functioning, cooperative work, organization, time management, and task completion are interwoven throughout day and evening activities.

The learning environment is structured to monitor student progress, adapt and modify objectives and strategies as needed, and ensure teacher accountability. Heavy emphasis is placed upon relationship building through trust and respect. We have found that a strength-based model, which fosters positive interpersonal relationships within a supportive and nurturing setting, is empowering for ASD students, who learn best when they feel safe, and receive motivating and exciting instruction geared toward their abilities and interests.


Individualized Learning Models

With an eye toward longitudinal, life-long planning for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, our teachers and clinicians employ Developmental, Individual difference, Relationship-based principles (DIR), practices of Universal Design for Transition (UDT), and the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) as the foundation for individualized programs.

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning provides a framework of principles that guide how individuals engage in skill acquisition, while the SDLMI serves as a step-by-step guide to build competence for adult life and employment-related behaviors. UDT and SDMLI serve as the underpinnings of the Shrub Oak curriculum because they have been shown to be highly effective in engaging people with learning and behavior challenges, and in preparing them for more successful adult living. UDT principles recognize that individuals are different in how they learn, interact with people and their environment, and demonstrate knowledge. UDT-based intervention modifies and adapts learning activities rather than trying to change the individual. In short, UDT offers an effective framework to educate ASD students with learning differences, taking into account their learning characteristics, abilities, interests, and challenges.

UDT was created by building on Universal Design principles. The goal of UDT is to enable individuals to succeed in school and in the community by ensuring that the environment is maneuverable, manageable, and satisfying for all users. Students are enabled to succeed through:

  • Multiple means of representation (i.e., varied ways to present information that needs to be learned)
  • Multiple means of expression (i.e., alternative methods of assessment to demonstrate skills and knowledge learned)
  • Multiple means of engagement (i.e., connecting work to personal interests to increase motivation).

Educational tasks are scaffolded so that participants enter activities at their own level. Goals are accomplished through concrete presentation of information related to interests and needs. Assistive technology plays a significant role in UDT, as it offers multiple avenues for information presentation, acquisition, task completion, and expression of knowledge.

Consistent instruction permeates each student’s program, with skills learned in class reinforced throughout academic, clinical, and campus life programs. Education and treatment programs are supported in residential areas, the dining hall, on the fields, at the farm, and in neighboring communities.

Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction

Self-determination competence, a cornerstone of our curriculum for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder, is positively correlated with educational success and improved adult outcomes. Self-determination includes concepts of independence, freedom of choice, self-direction, and responsibility. A causal relationship between high levels of self-determination competence and student outcomes has been demonstrated through research, and individuals who are more self-determined are more likely to achieve positive school outcomes.

SDLMI is based on a problem-solving approach that leads individuals to bridge the gap between current situations and targeted goals. Phases of SCDC interface with person-centered planning and include goal setting, constructing learning plans, and adjusting behaviors. This is a self-directed process using a problem-solving strategy where the teacher supports the student in identifying and setting goals, developing an action plan to achieve the goals, monitoring progress, and revising the action plan or goals as needed.

Principles and practices derived from UDT serve as the framework for the Shrub Oak Employment Intervention System (EIS). Staff members move ASD students toward attaining vocational and career goals through customized support to address specific needs and cognitive styles, while providing functional job-skill training and continuing to build self-determination competence.

Shrub Oak: Individualized Educational Curriculums for Every Student’s Needs

Shrub Oak’s unique curriculum accommodates sensory, cognitive, and behavioral characteristics, with emphasis on building skills for life-long success, including executive functioning, self-regulation of behavior, information processing, and social interaction. The education curriculum is innovative in its combined utilization of UDT and SDMLI, both of which have been supported in efficacy studies and have been shown to improve learning outcomes. By extending use of SDMLI and UDT into a strength-based education setting, student outcomes can be significantly improved, leading to increased independence and success.

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